Florida legislator to seek online sales tax
By Scott Blake
The same South Florida lawmaker championing pro-casino legislation in the Florida Senate plans to sponsor a bill aimed at ensuring that consumers who buy goods online pay sales taxes.
Citing mounting pressure from traditional retailers, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, told Miami Today she intends to introduce an "Internet sales tax" bill for the legislative session starting this week.
She said companies that strictly sell online generally have not been cooperative in ensuring sales taxes are collected from their customers.
It gives those retailers an unfair price advantage over conventional "brick-and-mortar" retailers who do collect sales taxes from their customers, said Sen. Bogdanoff, chairwoman of the Senate's Finance and Tax Committee.
The proposed legislation won't completely solve the problem, she said, but at least it will address the issue and maybe put pressure on Congress to act on a federal level rather than leave it to individual states to adopt a "patchwork" of laws.
Ultimately, she added, what is needed is a uniform federal standard for collection of online sales taxes in each state.
"There is a grassroots movement from the business groups to encourage Florida to take the lead from California and New York and pass laws that will bring the largest online retailers, such as Amazon.com, to the bargaining table," Sen. Bogdanoff said in a statement.
She maintains it would not be a new tax.
"The sales tax on any item purchased by a Florida resident must be paid," she said. "The problem is that it has to be paid by the consumer because the state does not have a legal nexus to force the online retailer to collect and remit the tax.
"Most of the public is unaware of this fact," she added. "Further, since the [Florida] Department of Revenue has no way of tracking online purchases, the perception builds that there is no tax on Internet sales. Again, this is far from the truth."
Florida has a 6% sales tax, but individual counties are permitted to raise the tax by up to two percentage points to 8%. In Miami-Dade, the sales tax has been raised to 7.5%.
Seattle-based Amazon.com did not return telephone calls from Miami Today seeking comment.
Florida "brick-and-mortar" retailers for years have wanted state or federal officials to see that sales taxes are collected from online purchases.
"We're trying to get fairness," said Rick McAllister, president of the Tallahassee-based Florida Retail Federation. "It's way overdue."
Mr. McAllister said retailers that operate stores and also offer sales through their websites generally collect the state sales tax from online customers. However, he said, retailers that strictly sell online have not been so cooperative.
Sen. Bogdanoff said that might be starting to change, as state representatives have had discussions with Amazon.com about the company taking steps to ensure state sales taxes are paid on its Florida transactions. Cooperation from other online retailers also would be sought.
Each year, Florida has been losing an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue that goes uncollected from online retail sales, according to Sen. Bogdanoff.
She said she doesn't think the state can completely recover that amount.
However, she said, whatever additional revenue the state does collect from online purchases, the state should reduce other taxes by an equal amount to ensure the measure remains "revenue neutral."
That way, she added, Gov. Rick Scott would be less likely to veto the legislation because it would not conflict with his stand against raising taxes.
To offset the sales taxes that would be paid by consumers making online purchases, Sen. Bogdanoff is proposing to establish a quarterly sales tax holiday in Florida.
"Everyone should come out a winner," she added. "The brick-and-mortar retailers will no longer be at a sales tax disadvantage. Those that oppose the idea as a new tax will feel comfortable that we are not increasing the tax burden on the citizens."
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