Someone once said that if you want to know what a Congressional bill does, read its title and assume the opposite.
When it comes to the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), a bill designed to put tax collection burdens on remote sellers, that heuristic works. Calling this bill the Marketplace Fairness Act is about as accurate as calling a cost-spiking healthcare bill the “Affordable Care Act.”
Because the MFA is unpopular and cannot pass as a stand alone bill, Big Retail lobbyists are working hard to get the MFA attached to must-pass legislation during the lame-duck session. If they succeed, small businesses will be irreparably harmed.
Consider this - the bill is written so that a Minnesota-based Big Box store located near the Wisconsin border can escape a tax audit from Wisconsin even though that store sells tens of millions in goods to Wisconsin residents. Yet, the MFA would expose a small Minnesota business to the threat of a tax audit from Wisconsin for making a single sale over the Internet to a Wisconsin resident. In fact, small online retailers would face the threat of up to 46 sales tax audits per year, while the Big Box store would face the threat of only one. This is the exact opposite of "fairness".
Consider, too, that this same Big Box store would only have to calculate and charge one sales tax rate for all shoppers to its store, not the sales tax rates of the Wisconsin buyers’ residences (there are more than 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions in the U.S.). Nor would this Big Box have to collect and remit sales tax back to Wisconsin. However, the small online retailer would have to collect the tax rate corresponding to the residence of its Wisconsin-based customer, while simultaneously ensuring that the good sold is not tax exempt in Wisconsin (nor on sales tax holiday there), complete Wisconsin’s tax paperwork, and then remit the collected tax back to Wisconsin along with the filing. Now, multiply that process by every one of the 10,000 plus tax jurisdictions into which the small business makes a sale.
Finally, consider that in order to carry out the work of collection and remittance the small online business would be required to use government-mandated software and pay out of its own pocket the cost to integrate this software into its website - often costing tens or even hundreds of thousands in integration costs - and yet the Big Box behemoth down the street gets to use the equivalent of a grade school calculator and single paper form to do its own calculation and remittance.
The MFA would do terrible harm to small business.
How many businesses would the Marketplace Fairness Act harm? If you listen to MFA proponents, it's hard to know because they change the number depending on the audience. When legislators are trying to sell the MFA to the American Public, as Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks MORE (D-Ill.) did from the Senate Floor last year, they claim it will affect 1000 businesses - a number that does not pass the smell test. When the software companies that would make the government-mandated software talk to potential investors, as FedTax founder David Campbell did in a recent video, they claim up to 3.5 million businesses would be forced to integrate the software. The true figure is somewhere between these two numbers, but clearly significant. These are real Americans who would face regulatory headwinds and costs that the Big Retailers would not.
Fortunately, Speaker of the House John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) resisted Big Retail lobbying pressure, considered the bill on its merits, and doesn’t like what he sees. House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.) also weighed the MFA and found it wanting, and has been working on alternative legislation based on seven principles for Internet taxation fairness.
Unfortunately, both have attracted the wrath of Big Retail and face unrelenting attacks daily. Why is Big Retail so adamant that its bill is the only approach to this issue? Perhaps it is because the MFA would allow Big Retail to cripple small online competition just as they previously crippled the mom and pop competition in our local communities.
BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE and Goodlatte should be praised, not kicked around, for their commitment to a fair and level playing field, not one that favors Big Retail at the expense of small businesses. In fact, more representatives should stand up to Big Retail and embrace Goodlatte’s seven principles that would establish a fair solution to the remote-seller sales-tax collection issue.
Davis is CEO of Scrapbook.com and a cofounder of the eMainStreet Alliance, a grassroots coalition of more than 700 (and growing) small online businesses that came together because of our joint opposition to the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA).