Burdening small businesses

Most reporting on the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act - a law that would impose sales tax collection on Internet sales - fails to capture the bureaucratic impact this will have on commerce. I suspect those writing about the proposal have never registered for a sales tax number, collected sales taxes or filed a sales tax return.

Look at four different scenarios under present law:

• If I sell to a walk-in Connecticut resident, I charge Connecticut sales tax.

• If I sell online to a Connecticut resident, I charge Connecticut sales tax.

• If I sell to a walk-in customer from New York City, I charge the Connecticut sales tax.

• If the same New York City buyer waits until he goes home and buys it from me online, he pays no Connecticut sales tax.

The proposed law does not require that if the buyer buys online I charge him Connecticut sales tax. It requires I collect the tax that applies where the package is delivered.

Under the proposed law, I will be forced to become a tax collector for New York state and city. I'll have to register with both taxing jurisdictions, charge my buyer the combined tax, then file two tax reports and send two tax payments. Now that I have registered with both tax agencies, I will have to file quarterly tax reports to each jurisdiction forever.

If a second online buyer is in White Plains, N.Y., now I have to register with Westchester County, pay the county sales tax and file quarterly reports with county authorities, a third jurisdiction.

According to the Journal of Accountancy there are more than 11,000 U.S. jurisdictions levying sales taxes - states, cities, counties, school districts, fire districts, etc.

Can you imagine the burden on a small business that has customers in, say, 100 different tax jurisdictions? Registering for 100 sales tax numbers? Filing 100 sales tax returns monthly?

If I sell online to a New York City resident, what expenses does the city incur because of this shipment? Absolutely none. New York is not burdened by this sale. Why then is the city entitled to collect a tax on this transaction?

Is a Groton store unfairly competing with New York stores? Are shipping charges and a one- or two-day wait really a competitive advantage? Isn't the shipping cost more than the sales tax in many cases?

It would be easier and more sensible for Connecticut to simply pass a law requiring all Connecticut businesses to collect a sales tax on all sales, regardless of the residence of the buyer.

When a business ships goods, ownership passes to the buyer at the point of shipment, not when goods are received. Once the package I'm sending is handed to the UPS driver at my location, my customer owns the goods. This makes Connecticut the proper tax collecting authority.

For Walmart and Amazon, it's no added burden to collect these sales taxes because they already are registered in these jurisdictions and filing monthly or even weekly tax reports. This law burdens the little guys far more than the major corporations. That's why Amazon and Walmart lobbyists are pushing this law so hard.

How will the state government cope with hundreds of out-of-state retailers applying for sales tax numbers and filing monthly returns? Tax payments under $10 may cost more to process than the small fee collected. Much of the expected windfall will be eaten up by bureaucrats.

As written, the Market Place Fairness Act is a job killer. Instead of hiring clerks to fill out tax forms for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of jurisdictions, small- and medium-size businesses will scale back and avoid those sales. Walmart and Amazon will grow bigger than ever.

Stew Walton is the owner of Sheaves Inc. of Groton, which sells wire rope pulleys used on heavy lifting equipment such as cranes, drilling rigs and ships.

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