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


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!


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