The Senate is expected to approve a sales tax on Internet transactions next week. The bill would require customers to pay their state’s sales tax on anything they buy online. Now, customers only pay a sales tax on items when the proprietor is in their state, often failing to pay sales taxes on out-of-state purchases as they are supposed to do according to law. While residents of Washington, headquarters of Amazon, may be indifferent, for the 90 million Americans without Internet access in their homes and the 100 million without broadband, the tax they can’t avoid on online purchases is as regressive as it gets: full freight for the disconnected, zilch for the tech-savvy. If Republicans proposed a tax that hit “lower income families, people with less education, those with disabilities, Blacks, Hispanics, and rural residents”–groups who lag the national average in broadband access according to the Department of Commerce–but exempted the wealthy, the healthy, the college-educated, and whites, the country would be up in arms. It’s good to see, then, that almost everyone in Congress supports an online sales tax.
Everyone, that is, except some Republicans. Not only are these members proud to belong to the Party of the Rich, when it comes to the Internet sales tax, they’re also the Enemy of the Uneducated, Disabled, the Minority, and the Rural Dweller.
I should qualify that last statement; it’s not completely fair. Republicans don’t oppose the Internet sales tax because they disagree with its details: it’s a bad bill because it’s tax, and taxes of any kind are strictly verboten. (Except sometimes, as in Bobby Jindal’s case, the sales tax.)
Here are some conservative opinions on the proposed Internet sales tax:
“I think the legitimate concern is, can it be used to do other forms of taxation or retroactive taxation? You have got to make sure it doesn’t do that.” — Paul Ryan, who, to his credit, said he agreed with the tax’s “concept.”
“I served in the state legislature for 14 years and this was a real burden to business. It’s not a burden to the larger retailers that would like to impose this.” — Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican from Kansas.
“This bill forces small businesses across the country to spend time and resources they should be using to create jobs jumping through new bureaucratic hoops. … Instead of slapping more red tape on our small businesses, we need to be supporting their work to create jobs and get our economy going.” — Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana.
I should have said some Democrats oppose the bill. In the Senate, they are Max Baucus and Ron Wyden, both from states without a sales tax. The bill would require businesses in those states to collect sales taxes from their consumers, unlike the current situation in which consumers are required to report their online purchases to tax collectors on their own, which they usually don’t do.
Even though the bill contains an exemption for companies with less than $1 million in annual revenue, some critics claim it would be “a real burden to business … it’s not a burden to the larger retailers” and that an online sales tax “forces small businesses across the country to spend time and resources they should be using to create jobs jumping through bureaucratic hoops.”
Paul Ryan fears “other forms of taxation or retroactive taxation.” After hitting the gym to relieve some of his anxiety, he can read the bill and assure himself sure they aren’t in there.
The worst of the bunch, however, are commentators like Peter Ferrara of Forbes who say they’re on the side of the consumer. As Ferrara should have discovered during his research for a recent column titled ”Overreaching Internet Sales Tax is Obama’s Calculated Deception of Gullible Voters,” consumers are already supposed to pay an online sales tax. Ferrara shows no special sympathy for the 90 million Americans unable to take advantage of duty-free Internet purchases, either.
Ferrara, who is also an analyst for the conservative Heartland Institute, is right, however, that online buyers like myself will be forced to pay taxes they now avoid. Great, I say; government services are usually good–though I could do without those we provide for the drug, defense, health insurance, and oil industries. Paying online sales tax is a form of austerity, and that may be a good reason to pass the bill now and delay its implementation, but that’s not the argument opposition Republicans and Democrats are making. Yet delayed or no, paying sales tax on some items bought online is a pretty small concession for the broadbanded classes.
If the Internet sales tax dies, it will die because of ideology. I expect many liberals, myself included, won’t get a thrill out of paying a bit more for used books on Amazon. But liberals should know broadband access at home is a privilege, and act with humility and support an online sales tax.
Most congressional Republicans are not so humble, especially in the House. If they told the truth, opponents of the Internet sales tax would say it’s not this bill in particular that upsets them: it’s the sales tax, or, rather, the tax in general–the whole “concept” should disappear.
But they, being politicians, often mislead. So we hear Sen. Baucus foretell of the slapping sounds red tape will make as it strikes our small business.
Enough already. We know it’s tough to care about “lower income families, people with less education, those with disabilities, Blacks, Hispanics, and rural residents.” Please spare us the lecture.