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Jennifer Mull: Level sales-tax playing field

  • By Jennifer Mull
  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2012, at 12 a.m.

E-commerce is no fledgling industry. According to comScore, online retail spending reached $44.3 billion in the first quarter of 2012, up 17 percent versus the same period a year ago.

Yet Internet retailers continue to receive preferential treatment from the government – even at the expense of local businesses, consumers and communities.

In 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state and local sales-tax rules were too complex and burdensome for remote retailers, and therefore out-of-state retailers should be exempt from collecting sales taxes unless they have a physical presence, such as a store or warehouse, in the purchaser’s state. As a result of this ruling, online-only retailers today enjoy a price advantage over local brick-and-mortar retailers. We are left with artificial disruption in the retail marketplace that prevents local businesses from getting a fair chance to compete against their online-only counterparts.

Our country was built on the concept of communities supported by local business owners. Shop owners are part of the place we call home: supporting the Little League baseball team, helping neighbors in need, providing jobs and helping to stimulate local economies. Without a robust retail environment, the economic health and local flavor of our neighborhoods will be jeopardized.

Our elected officials in Washington, D.C., ought to do everything in their power to help level the playing field for traditional retailers. Fortunately, there are two bipartisan bills pending in Congress that would allow states to require online-only retailers to collect sales tax at the point of purchase. The bills are designed to provide simplifications for all retailers, while protecting much-needed jobs across the country. Unfortunately, so far the Kansas congressional delegation has remained largely silent on the issue.

I urge the Kansas delegation to stand up for our businesses and communities and support these two important pieces of legislation. It is the right thing to do.

Jennifer Mull of Austin, Texas, is CEO of Backwoods Retail Inc., which has a store and billing office in Wichita.

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