Retailers promise 'robust' sales tax campaign

A leading trade group for the retail industry says it will mount a "robust" campaign this year for passage of an Internet sales tax law.

In its annual public policy agenda, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) highlighted the sales tax bill and data privacy regulations as among the industry's most important agenda items for 2014.

“The fact is few industries have a greater impact on the U.S. economy and its consumers. Therefore, public policy that intrudes upon the employer-employee relationship, tilts the playing field against Main Street retailers and stifles the industry’s growth, ultimately undermines retailers’ ability to invest locally,” RILA head Sandra Kennedy wrote in the report.

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The RILA counts Target, Best Buy, J.C. Penny and other top stores among its members.

Retailers have long complained that current tax laws gives Web-based stores an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar establishments. Currently, states can only collect sales tax from purchases at stores that have a physical presence in the state.

Last year, the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would let states collect taxes from out-of-state vendors. The RILA is urging the House to follow suit.

"The federal government should not engage in picking winners and losers in the market and instead should treat all businesses the same. RILA is committed to sharing the insight of the retail industry, directing a robust state-level campaign aimed at using e-Fairness to help boost the economy and coordinating with other supporters to close the loophole once and for all," Kennedy wrote.

Opponents of the sales tax bill, including eBay, say that it would force small businesses to navigate a complex maze of state and local tax laws. 

The RILA is also pushing for a “self-regulatory approach” to data privacy and cybersecurity that allows stores to use privacy protections that work best for them.

In the wake of massive data breaches that have affected millions of shoppers at Target and other stores, lawmakers in Congress have raised the possibility of passing a new law to protect shoppers’ data.

“Improperly conceived privacy regulations have the potential to unduly hamper the consumer experience, stifle innovation and make business practices too inflexible for customers with little, if any, additional privacy protection in return,” the RILA said in its agenda.

Retailers have asked financial institutions to start issuing new advanced credit and debit cards that come with a microchip and require people to enter a PIN number when they shop. Card issuers have supported the chip-based cards but have resisted requiring people to also use PIN numbers.

The organization listed comprehensive tax reform, changes to the federal healthcare law, trade issues and labor regulations among its other top priorities for the year.

— This story was updated at 1:22 p.m.