Congress Should Allow Small Businesses to Compete on a Level Playing Field

In order to help the small businesses, the backbone of our national economy, and improve local economies all over the country, we desperately need to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar retailers.

We are currently competing against online-only retailers at a nearly 10% disadvantage due to an unfair loophole in the current sales tax system.  We must not only collect, but account for and remit sales tax – regardless of our size – while online retailers do not—even though purchasers (from them as well as from us) owe the tax.

Internet retailers claim they have no physical presence (or “nexus” under the law) in most states and therefore do not use services and should not have to collect sales tax.  But many have warehouses and distribution centers all over the country and make sales based on so-called affiliate relationships in every state every single day.  In my view, that’s a sufficient connection to the state!  They absolutely need to be made to compete on a level playing field.  Otherwise, brick-and-mortar retailers will not survive.  People take small businesses for granted, but no business can survive at a 10% disadvantage over time.  And should we not survive, the economy of the individual states and the country as a whole will suffer.

Brick-and-mortar businesses not only collect sales tax, they hire workers, pay their wages, pay payroll taxes, property taxes, and a myriad of other taxes.  As importantly, they engage in and support their communities in many ways: contributing to and participating in school, church and library events, volunteering to help neighbors in need, serving on boards and supporting everything from parks to public service programs.  As the long-time owner of a bookstore, I can testify that my business is an active participant in our community, working with schools, libraries and civic groups, helping teachers with their curricula, donating books and serving on boards in the arts and business communities, at schools and universities as well as the churches that we and our children attend.  We are a vital part of the communities in which live and work.

We may only employ 25 people (for whom we also provide health insurance) at the King’s English Bookshop, but we anchor a previously run-down neighborhood which, over the 35 years since we opened our doors, has added business after successful business.  Our neighborhood is now known throughout our city as a wonderful and walkable area.  Real estate prices are not only high but stable, even in the midst of the recession—we are a boon to the local economy.  And we are not alone.  Areas such as ours all across the state and around the country make for a vibrant economy and heart and soul of communities.

We aren’t asking for special favors; we are by our very nature fiercely competitive and we do just fine in a fair retail environment.  And that’s all we’re asking for—fairness.  There is no conceivable reason why our government should offer an unfair advantage to one segment of retail over another—especially a segment that gives little or nothing back to our economy or our communities.

Please, let the free market work the way it was meant to—on a level playing field.

Betsy Burton is a small business owner.  She runs The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City and is the Co-Chair of Local First Utah.  Betsy is also a member of the Alliance for Main Street Fairness.

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