By Joey Cresta
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte made a stop at Pease International Tradeport Thursday afternoon to express her opposition to an online sales tax proposal she said would erode the New Hampshire advantage.
Ayotte is against a provision of the so-called Main Street Fairness Act, which would require online retailers to collect sales taxes for other jurisdictions where they do not have a physical presence. The Main Street Fairness Act promotes simplification and fairness in the administration and collection of sales and use taxes, which proponents say would help brick-and-mortar stores compete with online retailers.
Ayotte met with a group of around 50 Seacoast business leaders for a roundtable discussion at One New Hampshire Avenue. She said she is opposed to the amendment because it would hurt businesses, particularly in states like New Hampshire that have no sales tax.
"It's anything but fair," she said. "This will have an impact on New Hampshire if it actually gets passed."
The U.S. Senate recently voted 75-24 in support of the measure as an amendment to a budget resolution. The vote was non-binding, so Ayotte said she hopes to rally opposition to the bill before a binding vote.
"It makes online businesses across the country the tax collectors" for state and municipal sales taxes, she said.
Ayotte described the collection process as an onerous "bureaucratic nightmare," noting there are 9,600 jurisdictions with various taxes that online businesses would have to account for.
"In my view, it hurts e-commerce," she said.
She spoke to a varied crowd of property managers, consultants, small-business owners and others, including Eddie Edwards, chief of the state Liquor Commission, and Dave Mullen and Bill Bartlett of the Pease Development Authority. Some of those in attendance said they rely heavily on online retail to support their business.
Ken Smith, a Portsmouth city councilor and owner of downtown retailer Maine-ly New Hampshire, said the bill would force his store off the Internet.
"It's going to drive us, all the small businesses, out," he said.
Portsmouth resident Paul Ford said he and his wife have plans to start an online business selling eco-friendly, all-natural products called PurelyNaturalLiving.com. An online sales tax could make things too complicated for a fledgling business like his, he said.
"The last thing we need is legislation like this," Ford said.
Ayotte's visit to Pease followed a stop at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where she received an update from Capt. Bryant Fuller and talked with representatives of shipyard workers about the effects of sequestration.
Ayotte said that during the visit, she lamented the Senate's failure to follow through on her efforts to cut $381 million in funding for a weapons system she calls the "missile to nowhere." She said she opposes sequestration and believes prioritizing spending is a more effective strategy than arbitrary, across-the-board cuts. Ayotte expressed her continuing support for the $450 million repairs of the fire-damaged USS Miami submarine at the local shipyard.
"Our submarine fleet is important to our national security. That's undisputed," she said.