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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Collect sales tax on all Internet sales

Published Dec. 5, 2014

Here's something to be jolly about this holiday season: More of our families and neighbors are paying their fair share of what it costs to run schools, prisons and other state government. This holiday shopping season marks the first time that Floridians shopping on Amazon.com are consistently being charged the state's 6 percent sales tax on their purchases. That is also helping local merchants compete, which means their businesses might hire more local workers. It's time for the Legislature to embrace this sensible policy for all Internet sales.

For nearly a decade, Amazon was among the online behemoths that fought collection of sales tax on the Internet. But as the giant's retail strategy moved to quicker delivery systems, with more warehouses scattered across the country, it left behind any ambiguity about whether it needed to comply with states' sales tax collection and remittance policies. Warehouses have opened in Lakeland and Ruskin this year, providing the opportunity for the state to fully enforce sales tax collection.

But Florida should be doing more to demand online sellers collect and remit sales taxes when their goods are shipped to a Florida address. It should join several other fair-minded states that have passed laws that defined Internet sellers that pay an in-state affiliate to refer customers to them as in-state businesses. But the long-term solution lies with Congress changing interstate commerce rules. Last year, the U.S. Senate approved the Marketplace Fairness Act that would require companies with revenue of $1 million or more to submit sales tax collections to states. But the U.S. House Republican leadership has remained obstructionist under the misguided claim that it would be a tax increase, ignoring that when many goods go untaxed, the cost of government shifts to everyone else.

The reality is that shopping patterns have permanently changed and will continue to evolve. The fairest sales tax policy would tax all sales equally, wherever they occur. Just last week, it was clear the relatively new phenomenon of Thanksgiving night shopping has lost some of its luster, as has Black Friday. Retail analysts warned that Cyber Monday wasn't as strong as expected, further evidence of how access to the Internet — and the competitive price checking it allows consumers everywhere — has shifted habits. It should also shift Florida tax policy.

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