Online retailers should collect same sales tax as local stores

Legislation is now before Congress to bring equity to the situation. The law should be approved.

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It is time for Congress to take a stand for downtown Walla Walla -- and every other retail shopping center in America.

Lawmakers can do this by approving the Marketplace Equity Act, sponsored by Reps. Steve Womack, R-Ark. and Jackie Speier, D-Calif. The legislation would essentially force all online retailers to collect sales tax. Right now, sales tax is collected only when the seller has a physical presence in the state where the goods are being shipped.

For example, online sales from Cummins Athletic Supply would be taxed on a sale to someone in Yakima because the retailer has a store in Walla Walla. But an online purchase from catalog sports retailer Eastbay would not be taxed because there are no Eastbay stores anywhere. Ironically, Eastbay is owned by the same company that owns Foot Locker and Champs Sports, which do have a physical presence in Washington state (Kennewick's Columbia Center and elsewhere).

How is that equitable?

It's not. Yet, this has been allowed because Congress did not want to stifle the growth of online retailers when the industry was in its infancy. Well, times have changed and online retailing is now booming.

That's great, but the growth should not come at the expense of Main Street merchants.

Collecting sales tax from Internet retailers benefits the public because many state governments would, collectively, be infused with billions of dollars to fund schools, law enforcement and other critical needs.

The current tax dodge hurts local governments and Washington state. It has been estimated this change would result in $440 million in additional revenue annually for governments in Washington state.

We hope the members of Congress, who have been talking around this issue for years, finally take action to ensure the brick-and-mortar merchants in Washington and every other state that has a sales tax would have a level playing field to compete with Internet merchants.

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