Editorial: Taxing Internet sales fair, right thing to do

May. 25, 2013 @ 11:07 PM

Chief Justice Earl Warren would sometimes interrupt an argument before his Supreme Court, lean forward and say to the lawyer, “Yes, but is it fair?” Sure, he meant, it might be the law and it might be a pretty good interpretation of the law, but is what you are saying fair.

That would be a good thing to ask of those who oppose paying sales taxes on Internet sales. A bill in Congress would grant states the power to collect sales taxes for online purchases. Yes, it would be a burden for online businesses and even state governments trying to collect the money, but is it fair, truly fair, for someone to buy as product online without paying the sales tax that would be collected from buying the same thing in a store located in your community? The answer is no.

Stores in a town employ people. They pay property taxes and collect sales taxes that support police departments, fire departments, road improvements and schools. Those employees pay taxes too and use their income to buy products and services in their hometown.

This is a dilemma for many legislators who profess to hate raising taxes but see the inherent bias in online businesses located elsewhere making sales to local residents without those residents having to pay the sales taxes. Brick-and-mortar stores can never compete with an online operation on terms of convenience, but they should not have a disadvantage as unfair and unreasonable as the one on sales taxes.

House Speaker John Boehner opposes the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act. He believes it will place too much of a burden on online merchants to keep track of states’ different tax rates. That’s a reasonable point. But it is not an insurmountable obstacle. It’s just a challenge that can be met with ingenuity, creativity and planning.

Internet sales should be charged sales taxes because it’s the right thing to do. Those who bemoan that possibility should look around their communities and see what taxes have produced.