Senate Vote Signals Strong Support for Online Sales Tax Measure

Supporters of legislation (S 336) that would allow states and local governments to collect sales taxes on remote purchases, such as those online, won a significant victory on Friday during Senate floor consideration of the FY 2014 budget resolution.

Senators overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the budget resolution that effectively signals support for the online sales tax legislation, known as the Marketplace Fairness Act.  Since the budget resolution is a non-binding measure, approval of the amendment does not constitute enactment of the Marketplace Fairness Act, but the 75-24 vote demonstrated widespread and bipartisan support for the measure.

A bipartisan group of Senators offered the amendment as a way to gauge support for the Marketplace Fairness Act and were hoping that the proposal would gain at least 60 votes – the magic number for legislation in the Senate in that it is the number of votes needed to end a filibuster.

State and local government organizations have been advocating legislation such as the Marketplace Fairness Act for many years, and this year may present the best opportunity yet for passage.

Bill supporters have worked hard to educate Members of Congress that the bill does not represent a new tax on the Internet; it simply provides a mechanism for consumers to pay sales taxes on online purchases that they should have been paying but rarely do.  The bill would level the playing field between online merchants and “Main Street” retailers who must collect sales taxes on all purchases.

Online retailers have benefitted from a 1992 Supreme Court decision that required them to collect sales taxes only in states where they had physical presence.  However, in its decision, the Court maintained that only Congress – with its jurisdiction over Interstate Commerce – had the authority to compel out-of-state retailers to collect and remit sales taxes on remote sales.

A 2009 study estimates that states and local governments could have collected $23 billion in additional sales taxes had the Marketplace Fairness Act been law.  A breakdown by state can be found here.

While there is no schedule for the Marketplace Fairness Act to be considered on the Senate floor, bill proponents now have a strong case to make with Senate leaders and in fact, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voted in favor of the amendment.  A companion measure in the House will likely be considered in that chamber once the Senate approves its version.

Click here to see how your Senator voted on the “test vote” last week.


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