It’s Time to Pay Sales Tax Online

It’s rare that I unreservedly praise a WSJ column – after all, where’s the fun in that. But Lee Gomes today is entirely correct that the time has long since come for web-based merchants to start collecting sales tax.

Do you think that billionaire Internet moguls should continue to benefit from a tax loophole that hurts parks and schools, and makes it harder for your neighborhood bookstore to keep open for business?

I didn’t think you did.

In that case, cheer on New York and Texas as they chip away at the popular but grossly unfair advantage enjoyed by the Amazon.coms of the world.

No one really seems to care, but it is worth noting that the law as it stands merely says that Amazon et al don’t need to collect sales tax; it doesn’t say that consumers don’t need to pay sales tax. If you buy a lot of things online tax-free, you have to declare that on your annual tax return, and pay the sales tax then. You do, that, right?

The place that the sales tax unfairness really hits home is in computer sales, I think. A new laptop is a big-ticket and entirely fungible commodity, and in pretty much any state it’s a lot cheaper to pay for overnight shipping from MacMall than it is to buy a computer at your local Apple retailer. This doesn’t seem to have hurt the Apple retail stores, although I’d be fascinated to see what percentage of their sales are new computers, compared to the equivalent percentage for Apple as a whole.

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