By Dennis Ross
Critics of "e-fairness," who cite concerns over hidden tax increases, are well-intentioned but often misguided. I strongly believe e-fairness -- closing the online sales tax loophole and requiring online businesses to collect and remit sales taxes like brick-and-mortar businesses are required to -- is based on conservative principles and will be a real benefit to communities and the economy as a whole.
As a conservative, I am a proponent of minimal government intrusion into the free market. This is also the mission of e-fairness and its legislative vehicle, the Marketplace Fairness Act. Currently in many states, including my home state of Florida, online retailers can exploit a tax loophole by not collecting sales tax on their products even when it is due. Traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers in our state, however, must collect this tax, which creates an unfair competitive advantage for online businesses. This in effect gives online retailers a built-in, government-sanctioned pricing advantage of up to 10 percent, depending on the state. Closing this loophole is not only essential to keeping local shops and businesses on fair footing with online businesses -- for states such as Florida that do not have a state income tax, closing this loophole also brings in an essential revenue stream.
The Marketplace Fairness Act is not a tax increase. The taxes in question are already owed state and local sales taxes, which is why I filed a similar measure when I served in the Florida Legislature. As a strong conservative with a track record of supporting low taxes, I would not lend my name to a tax hike on any business. The Marketplace Fairness Act empowers states to collect taxes that are already on the books -- and that is all. No new tax is included in this bill, which is why I am a co-sponsor.
E-fairness helps our communities, which are suffering as local merchants -- the kind who create local jobs and business activity and sponsor Little League teams -- lose sales because of the unfair advantage enjoyed by their online rivals. As their customers naturally gravitate to perceived lower prices online, these small local businesses are forced to cut their workforce or wages as well as their orders with other local businesses. This cycle is dragging down our localities and the U.S. economy overall. This is unacceptable given the strong headwinds from government intrusion and red tape that most businesses already face.
The Marketplace Fairness Act will create a freer, fairer market in one of the most important sectors of the economy. It will ensure that all retail businesses have to play by the same rules and that states have the power to decide whether to collect taxes owed. Importantly, the bill will help revitalize struggling communities by giving their local businesses a level playing field on which to compete.
Supporting the Marketplace Fairness Act is simply the right thing to do. A sale is a sale, regardless of where it takes place. That one group of retailers is required to collect a tax while another is not is clearly unfair. The Marketplace Fairness Act is built on conservative principles like a free market, open competition and fairness. Conservatives can and should support this bill and join me in working for its passage this year.