Don’t listen to the naysayers – eFairness momentum picks up in Congress!

US Capitol

While the opposition would have you believe that Congress will let the clock run out on efairness legislation, the latest activity in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate demonstrates otherwise.  Champions in both chambers are determined to level the playing field for small businesses in our communities by closing the online sales tax loophole, and they mean to get it done this year.

After the May 2013 Senate passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which secured a solidly bipartisan 69-27 vote, local businesses became more hopeful than ever that Congress would finally pass legislation that would give them a fair chance to compete against their online counterparts.  While House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has expressed concerns over the Senate version, he and members of his committee on both sides of the aisle agree that our local businesses are suffering and that Congress must solve the problem.  Fortunately, small community retailers found another efairness champion in Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has been working diligently to draft amendment language that would address the Chairman’s concerns. He joins Congressman Steve Womack (R-AR), the longtime sponsor of MFA in the House, and Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), who have been actively working with their Republican colleagues on perfecting legislative language.

Activity picks up in the House

On July 15, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3086, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA), which would seek to make a moratorium on Internet access taxes permanent. Right now it’s set to expire in November.  During the June 18 markup of that bill in the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Chaffetz and several fellow members of the committee spoke up in support of taking action on MFA.  Then, during the July 15 floor debate on the measure, Representatives again called for the House to move forward with efairness legislation. Why is this significant? Because they are voicing the attitude of many legislators who would like to see PITFA and MFA combined into a single bill, agreeing that passage of both measures this year is critical.

Great minds think alike

Meanwhile, also on July 15, a group of bipartisan Senators led by Mike Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) introduced S. 2609, the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA).  The new legislation combines a re-tooled Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) and a 10-year extension of the moratorium on Internet access taxes under the Internet Tax Freedom Act. Consideration of MITFA is being fast-tracked under Senate procedural rules and consideration on the Senate floor could begin as early as next week. This legislation will also need approval in the House of Representatives.

While passage of efairness legislation has been a top priority for local retailers and shopping centers for more than a decade, the activity in both chambers is sending a clear message that leveling the playing field for all retailers is a top priority for Congress this year too.

How you can help  

For ideas about how you can help, visit www.efairness.org.  You can also follow the discussion on Twitter through our handle @efairness.

Marketplace Fairness is a Win for Everyone

Kim & Friend resizedA competitive retail marketplace is good for everybody. Customers get better prices, better selection and better service. Retailers are rewarded for competing and winning their business. For that system to work though, you need to have a level playing field for everyone. That’s what the Marketplace Fairness Act is about. Whether you’re a local small business or a big out-of-state warehouse retailer, the same rules should apply.

Letting the biggest online retailers off the hook for collecting sales taxes makes the marketplace less competitive by driving out small local retailers. And letting big out-of-state retailers avoid collecting state and local taxes also hurts communities like my hometown of Sparks, Nevada.

Local stores have proven that we can compete if given the chance. Not only that, we also create local jobs and support local charities and community events. When someone buys something from a neighborhood brick-and-mortar store, that money goes toward paying local salaries and local utilities. It pays local vendors for their help keeping local stores in business collecting local sales taxes. That money goes on to pay local plumbers, accountants, consultants and other retailers in the area. It’s the money we use to pay for our employees’ healthcare and educate our families, supporting the people in our community who deliver these essential services.

When a customer comes to Bag of Bones, a dog store we founded in Sparks, Nevada in 2004, they find a wide variety of dog food options. Pet owners today enjoy an unprecedented selection of specially formulated dog foods for dogs almost any size, shape and age. That selection can be intimidating to new pet owners. That’s why our store gives customers the benefit of a knowledgeable staff to help them find what they need. And when they shop in-store, they get the added value of supporting their local economy and local public services with each purchase.

Now let’s imagine that same customer decides to visit one of our out-of-state online competitors instead. The customer might find many of the same bagged and canned dog foods, but not the locally-made treats we sell at the register. Having gotten customer service previously from our staff, they already know what they want to buy, but they miss out on the conversation that teaches them something new about pet ownership. Not knowing what they’re missing, the customer adds the dog food to their shopping cart. Many online stores already offer free shipping already, and most are not required to charge sales taxes even though customers still have to pay them.

That customer checks out thinking they got a discount in the amount of the sales tax. But that difference in the sales tax is money that no longer goes to pay for state and local services. And since the online retailer is based out-of-state, that money flies off to New York or California, never to return to Sparks. The customer gets no local reinvestment value from their purchase and now has the added responsibility of calculating and sending their sales tax payment to the state on tax day. All because a large out-of-state retailer didn’t want to install some simple tax collection software or have to compete on a level playing field with local retailers like me.

I would love to see this loophole finally close in 2014. Free markets mean better prices, better service and better selection for consumers. They keep the government from micro-managing the retail marketplace by picking who wins and who loses. And even the biggest internet retailers headquartered all the way across the country will still benefit from our strong local economic growth. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Kim Hunter is the owner of Bag of Bones in Sparks, NV.

Believe in free markets and the rule of law? Then you should support sales tax fairness!

mike_mAs a retailer that does millions in business both on-line and over-the-counter, I want to voice my opinion about the Marketplace Fairness Act. This legislation isn’t about protecting retailers from free-market competition, or running to the government for help. It isn’t about buying discounted products on-line, or the Federal government telling states how to enforce sales tax. It’s about responsibility and an even-handed, nation-wide method of collecting the sales taxes that are due in 45 of the 50 states in the Union.

This is not a new tax. Anytime out-of-state retail, internet and catalog companies decline to collect sales tax at the time of the purchase, those 45 states and the District of Columbia already require the consumer to report it, and pay it when we/they file their state tax return. Those purchases aren’t tax-free under the law and many of consumers dodge these taxes daily.

Important? Yes.

The importance and fairness of this tax collection issue was so transparently important that both Senate Democrats and Republicans, in a rare show of bipartisanship, agreed to correct it in near-record (69-27) numbers. And let me tell you why it is important to you, me, and our communities too: because a significant portion of sales tax revenue is returned to the point-of-sale jurisdiction. It’s known as the situs rule and has tremendous implications. Situs tax revenue amounts to about 10% of most city income and is one of the major sources for discretionary spending. Most other tax revenue is earmarked for specific functions (schools, roads, etc.).

In short, situs tax revenue adds flexibility and is a prized source of funding for every city in America. In a tough economy, discretionary spending drops, retail suffers, sales tax revenue plummets, philanthropy declines, and the ability of the community and the government to fund both essentials and non-essentials is compromised. Think YMCA, parks, potholes, policemen, libraries, firemen, and all the things that help keep people off the homeless and unemployed lists. It is a fact that Faith and Hope can be bottomless fountains, but Charity and community well-being are dependent on income.

Before you start thinking that this is written by some left-wing whacko, think again. I’m the most fiscally conservative person you’ll ever meet, and I’m one of those businessmen who will be directly affected when this or any similar bill becomes law. I also believe in obeying the law, and paying (only) the taxes I owe to my city, state, and nation.

I change the station when I hear an ad about how some outfit can help a deadbeat get out of paying taxes, because I know that means the rest of us will have to pay more to make it up. Same deal here; if states collect taxes that are already due, they’ll have less need to increase taxes and fees elsewhere.

Contrary to the argument made by eBay and others (who want water down this bill and exempt businesses with less than $10 million in sales or fewer than 50 employees), it’s the little guys who are getting killed by the OOS web and catalog retailers. Testimony to that is the fact that small businesses and local Chambers of Commerce nationwide support this bill with near unanimity.

Burdensome? No.

That is just scare tactics spread by those who oppose the bill. The Senate version of the bill makes it reasonably easy for Internet retailers to comply. States are required to provide free computer software to help retailers calculate sales taxes based on where shoppers live. The same simple software that allows people to figure out shipping costs by ZIP code can calculate these taxes. We put a man on the moon in 1969, more than 45 years ago, and most small businesses now use a POS (Point of Sale) system to keep track of daily sales and inventory and can easily calculate, report and forward those payments with little or no additional effort.

Under MFA, states are also required to establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don’t have to send collected taxes to individual counties or cities (yet another lie by the lobbyists opposing this bill). And, according to the Senate version of the bill, businesses with less that $1 million dollars of OOS taxable sales are exempt.

I don’t have high regard for either The House or the Senate since they can’t agree on anything other than to hate each other. But both Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate agreed on this bill. That proves this isn’t about parties, it’s about parity. To that end, I encourage every small business owner and caring citizen to call your Congressman or write or e-mail him/her, asking for their support on getting this bill out of committee, onto the floor, and passed into law without modification.

Michael Michalak is the owner of The Fly Shop® in Redding, CA, along with his wife Bertha.

An Internet sales tax rant

Fred ClementsThis piece originally appeared in Bicycle Retailer. It is repurposed here with the author’s permission. Click here to read the original piece.

It is outrageous that the federal government continues to give the middle finger to brick-and-mortar businesses across the country by failing to fix a broken sales tax system.

It’s time for the House of Representatives to take a deep breath, put down the poison darts, and get to work on this issue.

It’s possible that our elected representatives may just be tired and/or stressed out. After all, they have been busy with various tantrums, government shutdowns, bad health care websites and general ill will.

But this does not excuse the fact that brick-and-mortar businesses are being openly discriminated against with bad laws that can only be fixed by the adoption of good ones. This is not a big government versus small government issue. This is about good government versus bad government and the current situation is baaaaaaad.

To be clear, this is not the Internet’s fault. There is nothing wrong with Internet retailing, and if consumers choose to buy from Internet retailers, many also with physical stores, that is their right.

But favoring one form of retailing by allowing it to dodge taxes is an abomination, a vile and horrible disgrace, not only a black eye for the world, but destruction of both eyes, a nose and an arm.

To its credit, the U.S. Senate approved a sales tax reform bill in May. The President has indicated that he would sign reasonable legislation in this area. Now it’s time for the House of Representatives to get off their collective buttocks and make it happen.

Other than this single issue, the free marketplace is mostly working in the bicycle industry as we all adapt to the Internet. Consumers are freely making choices on where and how to buy from the available options. Vendors are more often making deliberate choices on how they want their products to be represented and by whom, and are increasingly realizing the risk to themselves from commoditization. Retailers are making choices regarding the products they choose to carry based on many criteria, including the retail price being offered by Internet competitors.

The bad actor right now is the U.S. government, particularly members of the House. They are responsible for assuring a level playing field for businesses, but are doing the opposite. It is irresponsible to allow this travesty to continue any longer.

In September, the NBDA and other trade associations sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee urging them to take up the cause. It read in part:

“The problems inherent in the current collection system significantly harm local businesses, fostering an inequity in the marketplace that we believe is not sustainable. A hearing would allow for constructive dialogue that would move us on the path to leveling the playing field for small businesses such as ours.

“As it stands, large, online retailers enjoy a significant and unfair competitive advantage when they sell to consumers and are not required to collect and remit sales tax. This has resulted in an ever-increasing number of consumers eschewing local, small businesses in favor of online retailers to avoid paying the required sales tax. Compounding matters, with the advent of smartphones, some consumers will spend considerable time at their local stores, seeking recommendations for products from knowledgeable store staff, and, then, these customers will purchase the items on their smart phone to avoid the sales tax, often in the bricks-and-mortar store.

“Opponents of sales tax fairness are asserting that it is being advocated by large chain retailers that want, in their words, ‘to crush’ small businesses with burdensome tax regulations. This argument could not be further from the truth. Our coalition of independent associations has been advocating on behalf of sales tax fairness since 1999. Small business owners were the first to feel the effects of this unlevel playing field, but, as e-commerce has grown, it is telling that it now affects retailers of all size.

“In late July, the Roanoke Times published an editorial in strong support of sales tax fairness, noting, “Business leaders in the Roanoke Valley and beyond have been clear and consistent in their support for the Marketplace Fairness Act…. Owners of local businesses noted that they are the victims of government-imposed tax discrimination under the current system. The merchants aren’t seeking an advantage for themselves, just fairer rules. They pointed to a new study that suggests fairer taxes would benefit the economy, generating an estimated 23,600 jobs in Virginia over the next 10 years and 1.5 million nationally.”

The letter was signed by 18 associations and groups representing independent businesses. It’s time for the House to take action.

Fred Clements is the executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

A simple choice for Congress: grow the economy with Marketplace Fairness or lose local jobs

jwaugh

For more than two decades, retailers in the Roanoke region have had to compete with out-of-state Internet sellers who do not collect sales taxes their Virginia customers owe. Here in our area, that means a 5.3% competitive disadvantage for our shops downtown, at Tanglewood Mall and Valley View. That’s a rough deal for hundreds of locally-owned Roanoke businesses and their employees.

There are two key reasons that Congress must pass legislation to provide Marketplace Fairness. First, businesses need a level playing field for the free market to work. Right now our brick-and-mortar retailers collect sales taxes on dollar one, doing their part to help their customers pay their taxes. But, thanks to the online sales tax loophole, online-only sellers outside of Virginia are not required to collect the sales tax. That means that during checkout, the out-of-state, online seller’s prices look 5.3% cheaper than our local retailers. That’s not free market competition.

The second reason we need marketplace fairness is to grow our economies. It’s never popular to fight for tax collection, but there are signs that the sales tax is our best bet to replace other much more harmful taxes. Conservative economists Arthur Laffer and Donna Arduin point out that, by collecting the Internet Sales taxes that are owed, we could lower property and income taxes and add more than 23,000 jobs over 10 years.

Roanoke leaders have fought hard to sustain a thriving retail environment, to keep Market Street vibrant and the local economy humming along. A healthy retail environment means business innovation, steady local jobs, and a vibrant downtown that brings diverse members of our community together with visitors from around the state. In terms of job creation, retailers employ more than the staff in their stores. They employ the construction teams that build the buildings and the folks that maintain them. They contribute to public services including the workers who keep our roads paved, our street lights on and our community spaces beautiful. The Roanoke region’s retailers are at the heart of our community, and right now they need us to speak up for them.

This isn’t just about winning a political fight. The stakes are high for our local economy and for communities across Virginia. This is about supporting local jobs, ensuring that our neighbors can provide for their families. It’s about supporting local entrepreneurs who give our kids the summer jobs to help pay their way through school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Roanoke jumped a full percent from April to June of 2013. Economic statistics like that don’t just mean more unemployed people; they mean fewer opportunities for everyone.

Retail fairness isn’t something we can afford to wait around to achieve. Foot dragging and can kicking from Congress has already cost us local and state revenue. It’s time for Congress to pass Marketplace Fairness as soon as possible.

Joyce Waugh is president and CEO of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Georgia’s Local Retailers Need Our Help Now

Beth EnglishI live in a small town in South Georgia where we’re more than just a “community,” we are neighbors. The merchants in our downtown districts are part of that neighborhood too. They are the first ones to sign up to support our school teams and every good cause and civic event that takes place in Vienna. That’s the kind of neighbors we have here. They take care of us, and we look after them. And they need our help right now.

The issue of sales tax fairness is currently being debated in our nation’s capitol, with businesses and local representatives around the country calling for Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act. This legislation would allow states that have a streamlined sales tax code, like the one here in Georgia, to require online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes on items purchased within our borders.

It is my belief that any legislation that removes the up to seven percent price disadvantage local retailers in Georgia face when competing with online merchants is a good thing for our state and communities. Enacting the Marketplace Fairness Act simply levels the playing field for all retailers no matter where or how they sell, putting our hometown merchants on equal footing with their out-of-state competitors.

Strong local economies are built on the foundation that local businesses provide. Georgia’s local entrepreneurs and small businesses create jobs and economic activity that in turn generate sales taxes that help keep property taxes low. When our citizens support their local retailers, that money stays local. Whether that means paying our neighbor’s paychecks or paving our hometown roads, Main Street retailers sustain local economies across Georgia.

If this loophole remains in place, Georgia’s Main Street retailers, our neighbors, will continue to lose customers and we’ll continue to see a loss of jobs and economic activity in our communities. Ending this unequal tax treatment, which tends to distort market forces, will give our downtown neighbors a more competitive, pro-growth and level playing field on which to compete; exactly what a free marketplace needs in order to thrive.

While strong local economies are built on a foundation of strong local businesses, our schools, public safety, and public infrastructure also play a vital role in creating and supporting a healthy business environment. In other words, it’s a reciprocal relationship; we need our neighbors and they need us.

It’s time to talk to our Congressional delegation and ask them to support the Marketplace Fairness Act. Our local businesses, which make our communities and our neighborhoods strong, deserve to be treated fairly. They’ve supported us; now it’s time for us to support them.

Beth English is the president of the Georgia Municipal Association.

For retail staff and owners, Marketplace Fairness Act means jobs and growth

Rose Ann TornatoreIt seems that lately it’s one store closing after another here in the Daytona area. In fact, thousands of Florida businesses and jobs are hanging in the balance, thanks in part to an unfair government policy that drives sales to out-of-state online retailers instead of local Daytona stores. Many retail business owners across the state have already closed their doors and many more could follow if Congress doesn’t give us a fair chance to compete. The U.S. Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act this past May by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 69-27 to level the playing field for all retailers. It’s time for the House of Representatives to do the same.

It’s easy to take local retail stores for granted. You can find them on the streets of every U.S. city, staffed and ready to serve. One out of every 10 people employed in the U.S. has a job connected to retail, whether they’re working in the store or laying a brick-and-mortar foundation. These often-overlooked professionals deserve to be rewarded for their service to the local and national economy. But for the hard-working employees of dozens of my competitors, and for many other retail professionals around the country, the past few years have brought a pink slip and tough times instead. These folks deserve better than a Congressional cold shoulder.

When you buy something online, you’re legally obligated to calculate and remit any uncollected sales taxes to your state. That piecemeal tax collection policy has produced a tax payment rate in the low single digits. And because Florida hasn’t started auditing private citizens for these unpaid taxes yet, consumers often assume the missing sales tax charge is a discount, leaving me with an unfair competitive disadvantage. Even if I beat my competitors on price, cash-driven consumers will still think they can get a better deal overall by going online and dodging the sales tax.

Don’t get me wrong, I love competition. I’m a naturally competitive person and I want to win sales and earn my customers. But at the end of the day I have to collect sales tax and my out-of-state competitors do not, and that’s not what I would call free market competition. So when a customer goes out and gets a tax dodge internet price and slaps it down on the table for me to take or I’ll lose the business, I end up paying the sales tax myself. That’s money that might have otherwise gone to investments in staff and infrastructure that keep us thriving and contribute to the local economy. Not because an out-of-state website seller is more competitive than me, but because Congress hasn’t closed the outdated tax loophole that continues skewing our retail marketplace.

The current situation is bad for customers, bad for staff, bad for managers and bad for business owners. Doing nothing about this problem is a drag on the economy, hurts small communities, forces states to find other ways to get revenue, and keeps government bias distorting in the retail market. The Marketplace Fairness Act would close the government loophole that created all these problems, and it would level the playing field so every retailer gets equal treatment under the law.

Doing nothing is not an option. Unfair competition from website retailers is slowly bleeding Main Street businesses dry. If we do nothing, if we say nothing, and if Congress refuses to pass, or even discuss, the Marketplace Fairness Act, a lot more folks in Daytona and all across Florida are going to be feeling our pain.

Rose Ann Tornatore is the owner of Wholesale Lighting, Inc. in Daytona Beach, FL.

Retailers deserve facts, not false alarms

No claim is more popular among opponents of the Marketplace Fairness Act than that MFA would require businesses to file taxes in something like 10,000 jurisdictions. The most emphatic opponents even talk about audits from 500 Native American governments. Those numbers are meant to play on the worst fears of their audience of business owners. I enjoy great storytelling as much as anyone, but we’re talking about a make-or-break policy for Main Street businesses around the country. It’s not story-time, and we have a responsibility to the facts.

The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 says that states get to decide how they want to collect sales taxes on internet retail sales as long as they make compliance reasonably simple and easy. State governments that want to collect these taxes can either simplify their sales tax code in accordance with the Marketplace Fairness Act, or they can join the more rigorous Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, also known as SSUTA. About half of U.S. states have already adopted laws in accordance with SSUTA.

Under the Marketplace Fairness Act, states can only require Internet sellers to collect sales tax if they have “a single entity within the State responsible for all State and local sales and use tax administration, return processing, and audits for remote sales sourced to the State.” This means that a single state office handles everything including local taxes. If a state chooses this option, remote sellers would have to interact with exactly one office in that state.

States must also provide “a single audit of a remote seller for all State and local taxing jurisdictions within that state” Find out more here. To reiterate, that’s one office, one audit, one system per state. That means the worst-case scenario of tax jurisdictions is less than 1% of the 10,000 that opponents of Marketplace Fairness have threatened. And this stuff isn’t buried in the legislation; it’s on page two of four that make up the whole bill. Similar language appears in the first few pages of the SSUTA.

As a business owner I’m sympathetic. We’re busy people and don’t usually have time to do a lot of our own research on legislation. So if this was just about correcting a single false claim I probably wouldn’t have been so bothered. But I want others in the business community to know that the opponents of Marketplace Fairness are not credible. Look at their claims and then look at the facts. Maybe they have not read the legislation or maybe they have read the legislation and are fully aware of the fraudulent claims they continue to repeat. Either way they cannot be trusted on this issue.

Opponents of Marketplace Fairness are sounding one false alarm after another. They invent information to play on fears and vulnerabilities in the business community until there feels like no difference between “I don’t understand this legislation” and “this legislation will make me close my business.” That kind of manipulative lobbying is dangerous and in this case the message is also insulting—like internet entrepreneurs can’t handle the same compliance costs that brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs deal with every day. But unlike these critics, I have faith in my competitors, in the free market, in business owners, and in voters. And maybe most important of all, I have faith that a few facts will reveal the truth even in the face of 10,000 clever lies.

Zachary Hoffman is the President of Wiley Office Furniture in Springfield, IL.

New tools help supporters speak out for efairness

The Campaign for 21st Century Retail has launched a series of initiatives and resources to help you help us bring the message of efairness to every Main Street storefront and Congressional office. Marketplace fairness is about getting the government’s thumb off of the retail scales and updating the out-of-date sales tax structure that prevents states from managing their own budgets.

New studies keep coming out that reinforce what we already know: sales taxes are the least harmful, most broad based taxes available to state and local governments. Out-of-state online sellers continue to exploit a decades-old loophole created by a Supreme Court decision, putting local brick-and-mortar stores at a distinct pricing disadvantage and threatening their ability to stay in business.

In short, the Marketplace Fairness Act is a long-overdue and common sense solution that will restore free and fair competition to the marketplace. Let’s tell Congress to pass this important bill in 2013!

Here are some of the new initiatives and resources available now:

  • New installments in our 21st Century Retail Project featuring small business owners around the country advocating for the Marketplace Fairness Act
  • New integrated marketing campaign with billboards and local print and online ads
  • New blog posts by small business owners exploring how the Marketplace Fairness Act would help them, their customers and communities.

 
We’ve also added a new grassroots resources page featuring all the tools you will need to help us advocate for the Marketplace Fairness Act. Check out the page here or by clicking the “Get Involved!” button on our website for:

  • How to set up a meeting with your Member of Congress in his/her district office
  • How to bring the efairness message to a town hall or other public event
  • A sample letter to send to your Member of Congress
  • Sample op-ed and letter-to-the-editor to send to your local newspapers
  • Talking points to inspire your advocacy and strengthen your own case for efairness
  • Desktop wallpaper that shows your support and includes an action checklist

 
Swing by the site, check out the resources, and let us know what you think (info@21stcenturyretail.org) Or better yet, grab a few of the tools on the grassroots resources page and tell Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act today!

 

E-fairness: Good for Oak Ridge, good for Tennessee, good for the nation

Let’s start with a given: online retail sales have always been subject to state and local taxes. The percentage of people who pay those taxes voluntarily, however, is in the single digits. The low single digits.

Taxes are never popular. But Marketplace Fairness isn’t about higher or lower taxes, it’s about fair collection of the taxes that people owe. Passing the Marketplace Fairness Act would restore parity to the retail market, giving every retailer the same opportunities to compete. It would remove the government tax collection bias that weighs unfairly on the brick-and-mortar.

I believe in free markets. The principles of fair and honest competition are what drive retailers big and small to offer the best products and service. Thriving retail markets also bring tourists and generate the economic activity that keeps many small towns alive. Remember that the taxes these towns collect from retail sales aren’t going to huge federal spending programs. Local governments collect taxes so they can build schools and pay local teachers to educate the kids in their communities. These taxes go to essential emergency response services, and business and community development programs that make it easier for kids to become entrepreneurs, to become local job creators, and to fuel the local economic engines of communities across the U.S. Local taxes drive growth at the local level, and fuel economic development from the ground up.

When Oak Ridge needed a new high school, the city put a referendum on the ballot to pay for it. Voters approved that referendum by a wide margin. Nobody likes paying taxes but when the choice was between saving a few dollars on a blu-ray player or having enough classrooms to keep our kids on the path to success, the voters stepped up. And as much as I love Oak Ridge, I know popular support for this kind of essential local service goes beyond our community.

If the harshest critics of mom-and-pop retail are right, and in-person retail is dead, little towns and villages around America are dead, too. Our state collects no income tax, meaning that we rely entirely on sales and property tax revenue. Vanishing retail sales taxes likely mean higher property taxes to offset the lost revenue.

But I don’t buy into this doomsday theory. Go to your local mall or Main Street and you’ll see families out shopping together. Retail isn’t just a transaction, it’s an experience. It gives people a way to spend time together. And it helps us get out of our houses to go see movies and eat at local restaurants that connect us to our hometowns. And there’s nothing like going to a mom-and-pop store and actually knowing mom and pop. These are our neighbors, and the care they bring to their work makes in-person retail experience something you cannot replace with a webpage.

So really the question is: on what terms should all retailers compete? Should everyone collect taxes according to the same standards, or should online retailers get a special exemption from collecting the taxes we already owe when we shop at their websites. For retailers and local communities, this isn’t just an academic debate, it’s a question of fair competition and balanced budgets. The time has come for a level playing field. Let’s not wait for more shops to close their doors and send their employees home. Let’s make Marketplace Fairness the law and let state and local governments collect their own taxes on their own terms.

Parker Hardy is the President and CEO of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce.