NRF Says Supreme Court Sales-Tax Ruling Levels the Playing Field

Video US Supreme Court- AP

In a much-anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Internet retailers must collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence. But retailers with stores in the state, which do have to collect sales taxes, have long argued that the ruling put them at a competitive disadvantage with companies like Amazon. Now that consumers make a growing share of their purchases online, states said that cost them billions annually in potential sales tax revenue.

Success! An email has been sent with a link to confirm list signup. Kennedy wrote that the rule "limited States' ability to seek long-term prosperity and has prevented market participants from competing on an even playing field". That's when the U.S. Supreme Court last ruled on online sales.

The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, positions Louisiana to take advantage of the ruling and start requiring internet retailers to collect sales taxes.

Small businesses and Internet startups are likely to be most impacted by the Wayfair decision, as the calculation and remittance of sales taxes on all e-commerce sales "will likely prove baffling for many retailers", Kennedy said in the dissenting opinion. South Dakota's governor has said his state loses out on an estimated $50 million a year in sales tax that doesn't get collected by out-of-state sellers.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the ruling is bad for small business, as it opens the door for states to establish a "privatized tax-collecting bureaucracy".

In addition to being a win for states, the ruling is also a win for large retailers, who argued the physical presence rule was unfair.

But sellers that only have a physical presence in a single state or a few states could avoid charging customers sales tax when they're shipping to addresses outside those states. "They'll need to pay multinational corporations a pretty penny to comply with an endless web of new tax jurisdictions".

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The burden will fall disproportionately on small businesses.

In 2016, South Dakota passed a law requiring any retailer that conducts at least 200 transactions or has at least $100,000 in annual sales within its borders to collect sales tax, regardless of whether the business has a location in the state. "Any adjustment to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress", Roberts wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

South Dakota wanted out-of-state retailers to begin collecting the tax and sued several of them: Overstock.com, electronics retailer Newegg and home goods company Wayfair. The state conceded in court, however, that it could only win by persuading the Supreme Court to do away with its physical presence rule.

Retail trade groups praised the ruling, saying it levels the playing field for local and online businesses.

Avalara representatives could not talk about how the decision impacts its business due to the post IPO "quiet period" that the company says bars officials from talking about future effects on the business.

The Supreme Court is reversing a previous decision dating back to the days when shoppers flipped through catalogs instead of swiping through computer screens.

"Will states step forward and pass laws similar to South Dakota?" asked Annette Nellen, director of the Masters in Science in Taxation program at San Jose State University, on Thursday.

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