Originally published Friday, November 11, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Bill to tap into online sales-tax revenue makes sense

The Seattle Times editorial board supports the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect sales taxes on mail-order and online purchases across state lines.

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WASHINGTON'S delegation in Congress, Democrat and Republican, should support the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bipartisan Senate bill that would allow states to collect sales taxes on online and catalog purchases across state lines.

For years, Washington residents have escaped sales taxes by buying online. People have enjoyed doing this, brushing aside the irksome thought that they were shortchanging local merchants, wiping out local jobs and undermining local governments. When the Internet was small and times were good, their irresponsibility could be overlooked. No longer.

In the two-year period ending June 30, 2013, Washington state government is in a $2 billion hole. Counties and cities also suffer. The Department of Revenue estimates that passing the Marketplace Fairness Act will bring state and local government $483 million in new money in the next biennium. The effect in this biennium would be less but still meaningful.

Every hundred million dollars counts.

Most states have an income tax. Our state does not, and has voted four times against one. If a sales tax is what the people want, they must update it for the 21st century — and in an Internet world, that means collecting the tax across state lines.

This state is also the home of the most successful Internet retailer, Amazon. For several years, Amazon has fought efforts of other states to collect sales taxes. Despite Amazon being a neighbor to The Seattle Times, we have criticized its position.

Amazon now changes. It has endorsed the Marketplace Fairness Act. This is strategically smart, and it is welcome.

"Amazon's coming out in support is huge," says Russ Brubaker, assistant director of the Department of Revenue in Olympia.

Interstate sales-tax bills have been offered before, by Democrats. Brubaker notes that the new bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., now has an equal group of Republicans behind it, including Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

"Having him on that bill makes a big difference," Brubaker says.

This is a bill that makes sense. The timing is right. Our delegation should support it, and push hard.


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