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US Congress Debates Internet Sales Tax Question

Monday, February 8, 2010

The US House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law has sat to discuss "State Taxation: The Role of Congress in Defining Nexus." The Tax Foundation advocated a physical presence standard in written testimony especially in an age of e-commerce.

The Foundation stated: "Internet has seen an increased amount of commerce, but some seem to view it as a golden goose that can be squeezed without adverse effects on economic growth. It must be understood that the availability of many items in electronic commerce could be hindered if states are permitted to adopt economic nexus standards.

"States will reach for as much revenue as they can, if they believe that it can benefit them even at the expense of other states and the nation as a whole. A uniform physical presence standard would restrain these efforts, maintain a level playing field for all types of businesses, and reduce costs and burdens to interstate commerce.

"For example, if a New York company sells a product on its website to a California purchaser via servers in Ohio and Colorado, is the transaction everywhere, nowhere, or always somewhere at a given point in time?

"A physical presence rule provides a logical answer to where the transaction is located, identical to the answer given for brick-and-mortar businesses: in this case, New York, where the company's property and payroll are located. Proponents of economic nexus are mostly unanimous in rejecting that choice, but they would substitute only uncertainty about the ultimate answer.

"It was not new for states to seek revenues by shifting tax burdens away from the majority of voting residents, such as with changing nexus rules.

"Congressional action to adopt a physical presence standard may be the best vehicle for preventing burdens to interstate commerce, because it can be more comprehensive and accountable than judicial action and can also better address issues of transition, retroactivity, and de minimis exemptions."