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Level field for bricks and mortar

The Rev. Billy Honor of the recently formed Faith, Justice and Truth Project has declared loopholes allowing some online retailers to skip paying sales tax “a moral issue” which may be overstating it.

But certainly the state needs to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar stores and online third-party facilitators for business reasons.

It’s hard to believe that in the 1990s online retailers were given generous preferences, such as avoiding state sales taxes, to help them get off the ground. We’d say that worked a little too well and offers yet another piece of evidence of what can, and usually does, go wrong when government gets involved in the free market.

What the Georgia legislature has already considered and should push through when they convene in 2020 is going after the sales taxes not being paid by third party facilitators. The state last year started requiring sales tax on direct online purchases, but it missed the facilitators, which is a massive piece of online revenue.

As explained in an article by Maggie Lee in the Saportareport.com, “Not all online purchases come with a sales tax in Georgia. For example, at Walmart.com or Amazon.com, buying something that one of those companies is selling out of their own warehouse will incur a sales tax. But if it’s something that some third party has listed for sale via that site, the seller is likely not collecting sales tax.”

The Faith, Justice and Truth Project projected that the state is missing more than $500 million in sales tax revenue from the facilitators, though the state projected that the revenue might be nearer $150 million.

Either way it would help all Georgians to see this revenue collected to fund items like the teacher pay raise that will be coming out of state taxpayer pockets.

While Georgia is in the 9th year of economic expansion finding consumption tax revenue like this greatly helps the state government expand without looking for more from income tax.

A more convincing reason we’d like to see the state ensure that all online purchases, including Uber rides and Airbnb, pay their share is about fairness to businesses right here in Jasper and other small towns that not only pay their sales taxes but also employ local people and support local causes. And, keep in mind at the county level, our Pickens County retailers pay property taxes which support schools and county operations, while online retailers do not. If anything, online retailers should pay a higher sales tax as they get by without contributing to a commercial property tax base.

There is simply no reason to allow online retailers of any kind to skate by while local Main Street businesses shoulder the brunt of funding public services. At one point there might have been some argument about the difficulty for online merchants to identify where the sales were being made, but with advances in technology and tracking of spending at their sites, this surely doesn’t apply any longer. If a bricks-and-mortar store and online direct seller can calculate what they owe the state so can the facilitators.

For the anti-any-tax critics, please consider this wouldn’t be a new tax, just seeing that everyone pays their fair share of existing taxes.

Our nation has always looked to its local business community to provide scholarships, support volunteer fire departments and employ teenage kids in the summer. Let’s support local businesses with our purchases and see that the state supports them by requiring the same taxes out of any online retailers.

As the Rev. Honor said in an AJC.com article, “It is a moral issue as it levels the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses.”