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Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise today in support of the legislation that will level the playing field for brick-and-mortar retailers in Minnesota and across our Nation. I join my bipartisan group of friends, including Senators Durbin, Enzi, Heitkamp, and Alexander, in support of the legislation we are debating this week, the Marketplace Fairness Act. It will simply allow States to help their brick-and-mortar retailers, including the mom-and-pop shops on Main Street, stay competitive in a marketplace where online sales have become a fact of life. This legislation is a commonsense measure that brings our sales tax laws into the 21st century.
In Minnesota the retail industry includes nearly half a million workers--about one in five jobs in our State--and those retailers need to compete on price and on service every single day. But the current sales tax system makes it impossible for them to compete on an even playing field.
Take Michael Norby, who owns Norby's, a department store in downtown Detroit Lakes, MN, whom I met last August. His situation and what I have learned from him explains a lot about why I support this bill. Norby's has been in his family since 1906. Mr. Norby wants to compete with the big guys--with the Amazons and the Overstocks of the world. He said he can compete with anybody just as long as it is on a level playing field. He said: Once you bring those guys onto the same playing field as the rest of us, we will compete with them.
But there is a problem. Mr. Norby described what they see in Norby's every day. We have heard it from other Senators. It is called showrooming. The customers come and check out the merchandise, they get help from a sales associate, then they pull out their smart phones and say: I can get this cheaper online. When Norby's has to collect sales tax and the other guys don't, it makes it impossible to compete. Mr. Norby describes this simply as an issue of fairness. And he is right.
Brick-and-mortar stores such as his should be able to compete on the same terms as online retailers. That is what this bill does, and that is why Mr. Norby supports the Marketplace Fairness Act. But it is not just about fairness. When Mr. Norby is able to compete on fair terms, he will be able to hire more people. That is what will happen when the Marketplace Fairness Act passes. And what goes for Norby's goes for other businesses around Minnesota. The Marketplace Fairness Act is going to help the local businesses in our communities that provide jobs to our constituents. And when customers shop at local retailers, that money then supports the local community and it stays in that community.
The Marketplace Fairness Act will help our States and our communities in another way. State and local budgets have been hit really hard since the great recession. One thing that has meant is that even though the private sector jobs have grown for the past 37 months, the public sector has shed a tremendous number of essential jobs--teachers, firefighters, police officers. That is why so many Governors across this country support efforts of reform, because it is the right thing to do for their States.
Republican Governors in Alabama, Arizona, South Dakota, Georgia, South Carolina, Idaho, and many other States support the concept of leveling the playing field for small businesses because it brings much needed revenue to their States without creating a new tax. There is no new tax created here. It is simply going to improve compliance under existing laws.
Minnesota has lost an estimated $397 million in revenue in 2011 alone from taxes owed but not collected on remote sales. I am sure that $397 million could do a lot for the people of Minnesota, including hiring back some of those teachers and firefighters and police officers, making improvements in infrastructure, in education, and in so many of the things that create prosperity and that affect the middle class.
I have heard from big retailers in Minnesota, such as Best Buy and Target, about how important this issue is, but I have also heard from countless mom-and-pop stores, such as Norby's Department Store. I have spoken with the Minnesota Retailers Association and the Metro Independent Business Alliance. In addition to retailers, I have heard from the League of Minnesota Cities, from mayors across the State, and from our Governor--all who understand what that revenue they are missing can do for our communities.
The Marketplace Fairness Act is bipartisan, and it is a commonsense bill. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
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