Area Lawmakers Support Internet Sales Tax Bill

December 10, 2012 | | Print Print

By Matthew Beaton / The News Herald

PANAMA CITY — Citing fairness, area legislators pledged their support for an Internet sales tax bill recently filed in the state Senate.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, is taking another shot at pushing the bill through, officially titled Mail Order Sales (SB 88). This is at least the third time such a bill has been filed and the second time Margolis has tried to pass it, said Jeff Branch, the senator’s senior legislative assistant.

The bill would bring home between $800 million and $1 billion in uncollected sales taxes, Branch said. Current law says customers should remit sales taxes to Tallahassee for online purchases, but that’s not happening, he said.

“There’s no enforcement,” Branch said.

The bill would require online retailers to collect the state’s 6 percent sales tax — and likely the county sales tax, too — at the time of purchase, Branch said. Then the retailer would remit the taxes just like brick-and-mortar businesses do.

“There are some who would say this is an increase in taxes or an additional tax. I take a different viewpoint. This is an uncollected tax,” said state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. “This is a tax already owed the state of Florida.”

The bill has been referred to three committees: Commerce and Tourism, Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, and Appropriations.

Montford, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature needs to move quickly and pass Margolis’ bill. He said it’s a fairness issue for him.

“If the brick-and-mortar stores have to collect the sales tax, then we should do the same thing for the Internet sales tax,” Montford said.

“The taxes are owed, and they should be paid,” he added.

As it stands now, brick-and-mortar stores are at a disadvantage and the state needs to level the playing field, Montford said; Internet companies should be held to the same standards as all other businesses in Florida.

Montford said he believes the bill will get through this session and he’ll be “fully supportive” of the bill in the Appropriations Committee.

Montford’s colleague in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax takes a similar view.

“I stand on fairness for all retailers, whether it’s on the Internet or on Main Street,” said state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

Evers said so long as parity is kept and taxes don’t increase, he’ll support the bill. He said the bill undercuts the no-sales-tax Internet advantage and all retailers are on equal footing.

But, Evers said it’s too early to tell if the bill will make it to the governor’s desk. He said, as he understands it, the bill applies only to online retailers that have a physical presence in Florida — an office, storefront, warehouse, etc.

“I’m going to look at it with an open mind, and as long as everything is as it appears to be, then I won’t have a problem,” he said.

Branch said the bill, in its current form, would tax all Internet sales regardless of whether the online retailer has a physical presence in Florida. He used the example of wine retailers in California who ship their product to South Florida; he said, if passed, the bill would require them to collect and remit the sales tax.

Jennifer Hrdlicka, staff director for the Committee on Commerce and Tourism, said the bill has not been analyzed by the legislative team and she was unsure if it would apply only to online retailers with a physical presence in Florida or for all Internet sales in Florida.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce supports the Internet sales tax, Branch said, while online retailer Amazon has come out against similar bills in the past.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he has not read the bill and would not take a position on it.

“I think we’ll let the bill be considered by Senate committees,” he said.

Gaetz said he was sure the committees will have plenty of time to hear testimony for and against it. He said the bill is months away from making it to the Senate floor and likely would change by then.

“I don’t remember any bills in my six years in the Senate — any substantive bills — that have ever reached the Senate floor exactly as they were introduced, so it’s hard to know how I’ll vote,” he said.

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