Level playing field for local retailers

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Online retailers like Amazon and other giants of cyberspace have taken business away from traditional retailers and created holes on main streets across the nation, a reality that may not change in the years ahead. What must change, however, is the unfair sales tax advantage the online retailers have that makes it even easier for them to squash the competition. Beacon Hill now has an opportunity to make that change in Massachusetts.

The Main Street Fairness Coalition and other allied groups are calling on the state to require Amazon.com to pay the 6.25 percent sales tax on sales made in Massachusetts to level the playing field with book stores, record stores and others trying to compete. Jon Hurst, the head of the Massachusetts Retailers Association, said last week that online retailers must play by the same rules as the mom and pop stores currently subject to the sales tax for the benefit of those stores and the retail industry in general.

Massachusetts was unable to act before now because Amazon did not have a physical presence in the state, but its decision to open a development lab in Cambridge provides the state opportunity to subject the company to the sales tax. Ideally, the federal government would require Amazon and other online giants to pay state sales taxes, but with much of Con gress paralyzed by various no-tax pledges it is up to the individual states to bring economic fairness to the marketplace.

Not surprisingly, Amazon wants a na tional solution to the sales tax issue, secure in the knowledge that none will ever come. It does, however, pay sales taxes in five states that require it to do so and Massa chusetts should follow their lead. The coalition estimates that Amazon would pay as much as $40 million in taxes, which the commonwealth desperately needs and which Amazon can easily afford.

Residents understandably fear that Amazon would pass the sales tax on to them, but we hope residents will consider the impact on their community of this tilted playing field. Amazon doesn't sponsor local Little League teams or scout troops and it doesn't employ local workers. The stores paying the sales tax do those things and more for the community, and when they go out of business they leave gaping holes in streets like Pittsfield's North Street. They aren't asking for special treatment, only that the special treatment accorded a mammoth rival comes to an end.

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