By Mannix Porterfield
Brick-and-mortar firms in West Virginia could find themselves on an even playing field in the arena of sales taxes under a bill approved by the Senate with a strong push by Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Its intent is to compel online retailers who sell goods in other states to collect taxes — an idea that has strong backing by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said the measure would help local firms across his state.
“Our small businesses are the lifeline of our communities,” he said.
“They employ local workers, they boost local economies and West Virginians are proud to support them. But these businesses are losing out every day to large, online retail companies that are able to sell their goods without paying any state sales taxes. It just isn’t fair.”
Rockefeller said it is estimated that the state loses between $56 million and $103 million annually in taxes not paid on Internet purchases.
“We need to support our local businesses on Main Street to help keep our towns vibrant, while also letting online retailers thrive,” he said.
“This bill accomplishes both.”
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, has touted the Rockefeller proposal, saying that online retailers can sell merchandise from any location across the globe without imposing taxes.
“It puts our West Virginia merchants at a disadvantage to have to pay a tax that Internet sales companies don’t have to pay,” Roberts said.
“Our concern is that our small businesses are up against an uneven playing field.”
About three-fifths of all workers in West Virginia owe their livelihood to a small business, he pointed out.
Known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” states would have the flexibility to collect taxes that are already required.
Under current practice, it is up to consumers to calculate and send in the taxes owed for goods purchased via the Internet. And most consumers don’t pay them.
Fifty-five national trade associations, along with 96 state and local trade groups, including the West Virginia Retailers Association, are in support of the legislation, Rockefeller pointed out.
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