Friday November 23, 2012

Governor Patrick continues to press Amazon.com to begin collecting sales taxes from customers, which we and the governor hope will begin next year. This is a national issue, however, and in light of an election that among other things was a vote for tax fairness, Wash ing ton should end the tax advantages enjoyed by online retailers that are hurting the brick-and-mortar retailers so important to communities like those in the Berkshires.

Under federal law, online retailers do not have to collect sales taxes from state buyers unless they have a physical presence in a state. The Patrick administration argues that Amazon’s purchase of a North Reading technology firm, Kiva Systems, gives it that presence. According to the Mas sachusetts Main Street Fair ness Coalition, the state lost roughly $390 million in 2011 because on-state retailers were exempt from the 6.25 percent sales tax.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, backed by town and city officials, are not seeking any advantages for themselves, only a level playing field. Consumers who don’t want to pay the sales tax for online purchases should consider that when a local retailer is driven out of business by an online retailer, the result is an empty building, lost property tax payments and lost jobs. Local businesses support local charities, Little League teams and other groups -- Amazon.com does not.

State treasurer Steven Grossman, in a letter quoted in Wednesday’s Boston Globe, urged U.S. Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to push for online tax legislation. "It is simply contrary to sound public policy to penalize companies that actually invest in a brick-and-mortar presence in a community," wrote Mr. Grossman. It is unsound and it is unfair.