• Tag Archives taxes
  • The “Internet Taxation” Fight Isn’t Really about Internet Taxation

    One of the key principles of a free society is that governmental power should be limited by national borders.

    Here’s an easy-to-understand example. Gambling is basically illegal (other than government-run lottery scams, of course) in my home state of Virginia. So they can arrest me (or maybe even shoot me) if I gamble in the Old Dominion.

    I think that’s bad policy, but it would be far worse if Virginia politicians also asserted extraterritorial powers and said they could arrest me because I put a dollar in a slot machine during my last trip to Las Vegas.

    And if Virginia politicians tried to impose such an absurd policy, I certainly would hope and expect that Nevada authorities wouldn’t provide any assistance.

    This same principle applies (or should apply) to taxation policy, both globally and nationally.

    On a global level, I’m a big supporter of so-called tax havens. I’m glad when places with pro-growth tax policy attract jobs and capital from high-tax nations. This process of tax competition rewards good policy and punishes bad policy. Moreover, I don’t think those low-tax jurisdictions should be under any obligation to enforce the bad tax laws of uncompetitive countries.

    There’s a very similar debate inside America. Some states—particularly those with punitive sales taxes—want to force merchants in other states to be deputy tax enforcers.

    I’ve written about this topic and I think even my writings from 2009 and 2010 are still completely relevant. But let’s check some other sources, starting with a column in the Wall Street Journal. It’s from 2016, but the issue hasn’t changed.

    The state of Alabama is openly defying the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to squeeze millions of dollars of tax revenue from businesses beyond its borders. …This unconstitutional tax grab cuts to the heart of the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate trade “among the several States.” Alabama’s regulation directly contravenes the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Quill v. North Dakota. In that case, the court held that North Dakota could not require an out-of-state office-supply company to collect sales taxes because the firm had no offices or employees there. …Alabama’s revenue commissioner, Julie Magee, is putting forward an untested and suspect legal theory: The state claims that if its residents buy more than $250,000 a year from a remote business, then the seller has an “economic presence”… There are around 10,000 sales-tax jurisdictions in the U.S., with varying rates, rules and holidays, and different definitions of what is taxable. Keeping track of this ever-changing patchwork is a burden, and forcing retailers to scramble to comply would profoundly hinder interstate commerce in the Internet age.”

    And here are some excerpts from a column published that same year by Fortune.

    When politicians call for “fairness,” it’s important to take a closer look at their definition of fair. See, for example, the nationwide push in state capitols to slap online sales taxes on out-of-state retailers—a simple tax grab… states are constitutionally prohibited from collecting sales taxes from retailers that have no presence within their borders…thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota… Any national online sales-tax system will burden online retailers to a degree never felt by brick-and-mortar businesses. Local businesses only have to deal with a limited number of sales taxes—usually only the state, county, and local levies that apply to specific stores. Online retailers, on the other hand, would have to calculate and apply sales taxes across the entire nation—and roughly 10,000 jurisdictions have such taxes. Complying with this convoluted system would necessarily raise costs for consumers and stifle competition.”

    And the debate continues this year. The Wall Street Journal editorialized against extraterritorial state taxing last week.

    A large faction of House Republicans are pressing GOP leaders to attach legislation to the omnibus spending bill that would let states collect sales tax from remote online retailers. South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem’s legislation…would let some 12,000 jurisdictions conscript out-of-state retailers into collecting sales and use taxes from their customers. …Contrary to political lore, sales tax revenues have been increasing steadily in states with healthy economies. Over the past five years, Florida’s sales tax revenues have grown 27%. South Dakota’s are up by nearly 30% since 2013. …Twenty or so states have adopted “click-through” taxes to hit remote retailers that have contracts with local businesses. In 2016 South Dakota invited the High Court to revisit Quill by extending its sales tax to out-of-state sellers. …the Court could enable broader taxation and regulation of out-of-state businesses. This is what many states want to happen. …Raising taxes on small business and consumers won’t be a good look for Republicans in November, nor an inducement for investment and growth.”

    Jeff Jacoby also just wrote on this topic for his column in the Boston Globe.

    First, the flow of interstate commerce must not be impeded by one state’s impositions. And second, there should be no taxation without representation; vendors should not be liable for taxes in states where they have no vote or political recourse. The Supreme Court upheld this “physical connection” standard in a 1992 case, Quill v. North Dakota. …the high court should reaffirm it. In the 26 years since the justices rebuffed North Dakota’s claim, the case against allowing states to exert their taxing power over remote sellers has grown even stronger. …there are now 12,000 taxing jurisdictions—not only states, counties, and cities, but also parishes, police districts, and Indian reservations. A lone online seller, unprotected by the Quill rule, could be obliged to remit taxes to any combination of them, with all their multitudinous rules and definitions, tax holidays, and filing deadlines. …South Dakota can impose onerous burdens on companies operating within its borders, but not on vendors whose only connection to the state is that some of their customers happen to live there. The court got it right the first time. No merchant—whether selling online, via mail order, or in a traditional shop—is obliged to be a tax collector for states it doesn’t operate in.”

    And here are some passages from Jessica Melugin’s article for FEE. She makes the key point that extraterritorial tax powers would undermine—if not cripple—the liberalizing impact of tax competition.

    …the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA)…seeks to get rid of that physical presence limit on state taxing powers. It would let states reach outside their geographical borders and compel another state’s business to calculate, collect, and remit to that first state. …the long-term effect is that this arrangement will lessen the downward pressure on taxes between jurisdictions. Think of it like this: it’s the difference between driving your car across the D.C. border to Virginia to fill up with lower Virginia gas taxes—that’s how it works now and that’s what keeps at least some downward pressure on D.C. tax rates. If D.C. made the rate high enough, everyone would exit and fill up in Virginia. But if the approach in the RTPA is applied to this thought experiment, it would mean that when you pull into that Virginia gas station, they look at your D.C. plates and charge you the D.C. gas tax rate. …it’s a makeshift tax cartel among the states. …the RTPA is a small-business killer—which is why big box retailers support it. It crushes small competitors with compliance costs. State politicians are for it because they’d rather tax sellers in other states who can’t vote them out of office. Consumers will be left with less money in their pockets and fewer choices.”

    By the way, there are some pro-market people on the other side. Alex Brill of the American Enterprise Institute has written in favor of extraterritorial taxation.

    …lawmakers have proposed legislation to allow (not require) states to collect sales tax on goods purchased from out-of-state sellers. …critics of this legislation…argue that “internet freedom is under attack by politicians willing to distort markets and tilt the playing field toward their favored businesses.” Internet freedom is certainly not being “attacked” by a policy to improve enforcement of existing tax liability. Second, these critics oppose the legislative reform based on the belief that just because the internet benefits people, online retail activities should be advantaged by public policy. If public finance were based on this type of specious logic, we would have a tax code far more unfair and distorted than it currently is.”

    I actually agree with both of his arguments. Giving states extraterritorial tax powers isn’t an attack on the Internet. And I also agree that tax policy shouldn’t provide special preferences.

    But neither of his points address my concern that extraterritorial tax powers give too much power to governments and undermine tax competition.

    Unless he’s going to argue that Nevada’s no-income-tax status is “distorted” compared to California’s punitive system. Or unless he’s going to argue that Delaware’s no-sales-tax status is “unfair” compared to New Jersey’s onerous system.

    For more information, here’s my speech to congressional staffers from 2012.

    P.S. For folks who like technical details, this fight is not about Internet taxation. It’s a battle between “origin-based” taxation (basically territorial taxation) and “destination-based” taxation (basically worldwide or extraterritorial taxation). I favor the former and oppose the latter, which helps explain my opposition to the border-adjustment tax and the value-added tax.

    P.P.S. I was afraid that congressional leaders would attach a provision to the new spending bill that would allow extraterritorial taxation by states. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. So the “omnibus” plan is a pork-filled affront to fiscal sanity, but at least it’s not a state-goverment-empowering, pork-filled affront to fiscal sanity.

    Reprinted from International Liberty.


    Daniel J. Mitchell

    Daniel J. Mitchell is a Washington-based economist who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.



  • The GOP’s Proposed Internet Tax Would Crush Small Business

     

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board was entirely correct yesterday when they said, “Republicans have spent the last year cutting taxes and regulations, which hasn’t been easy. But now some Members of Congress want to blunt their handiwork by passing an online sales tax. Yes, they actually believe this would be good policy and politics.”

    Despite the talk of possibly attaching it to must-pass funding legislation and the rhetoric about the bill itself, consumers will experience the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA) as a sales tax increase. If the bill becomes law, more of their purchases will be subject to sales taxes and the downward pressure on sales taxes among states will be reduced, so rates and bases in all the states are likely to go up in the longer term.

    Removing the Incentive to Keep Taxes Low

    Right now, sales taxes are only assessed on purchases when the seller has a physical presence—like a warehouse, store, or office—in the buyer’s state. This is because the seller is the legal taxpayer, so the status quo is a “no taxation without representation” situation, not a special loophole set up for Internet retailers, as is sometimes claimed.

    The RTPA seeks to get rid of that physical presence limit on state taxing powers. It would let states reach outside their geographical borders and compel another state’s business to calculate, collect, and remit to that first state. The cost of that tax will usually be passed along to the customer and will feel like a tax increase to consumers.

    Additionally, the long-term effect is that this arrangement will lessen the downward pressure on taxes between jurisdictions. Think of it like this: it’s the difference between driving your car across the D.C. border to Virginia to fill up with lower Virginia gas taxes—that’s how it works now and that’s what keeps at least some downward pressure on D.C. tax rates. If D.C. made the rate high enough, everyone would exit and fill up in Virginia.

    But if the approach in the RTPA is applied to this thought experiment, it would mean that when you pull into that Virginia gas station, they look at your D.C. plates and charge you the D.C. gas tax rate. There’s no exit. Consumers will wear their home jurisdiction like a tax albatross when they shop online.

    The RTPA is the opposite of tax competition; it’s a makeshift tax cartel among the states.

    Killing Competition with Compliance Costs

    There is also a heavy regulatory compliance burden. Under the RTPA, businesses will be left calculating for thousands of distinct sales tax jurisdictions, each with their own bases, rates, exemptions, and tax holidays. These distinct jurisdictions and their rules will hurt small, independent sellers and those who use platforms like Etsy and eBay. RTPA advocates point to free government-provided tax-calculating software as a way to ameliorate these compliance burdens. But there are serious concerns with the performance of that software and there are no allowances made in the bill for costs associated with testing or integrating these systems.

    These small businesses and independent sellers would also be subject to audits from up to 46 states (the current number of states that impose a sales tax) and could be hauled into the auditing state’s court. The costs associated with that are potentially lethal for a one-person shop selling on eBay or Etsy.

    In an environment like that, many small firms would fold and some would be pushed onto bigger platforms, like Amazon, that will handle the tax issues for them—for a fee, of course. This ability to comply with onerous tax law, along with Amazon’s new business model of fast delivery—which requires warehouses that trigger sales taxes—explains Amazon’s support for RTPA.

    In summary, the RTPA is a small-business killer—which is why big box retailers support it. It crushes small competitors with compliance costs. State politicians are for it because they’d rather tax sellers in other states who can’t vote them out of office.

    Consumers will be left with less money in their pockets and fewer choices online.

    Reprinted from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.


    Jessica Melugin

    Jessica Melugin is associate director of the Center for Technology & Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Her research focuses on technology issues including electronic commerce, Internet taxation, net neutrality regulation, and antitrust.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.



  • Yes, You Can Be for Lower Taxes and Smaller Deficits

     

    One needn’t support the recently-enacted tax legislation to be disturbed by the tenor of much criticism of it. Many opponents, and indeed some press reporting, took for granted that if one voted for a significant tax cut after having expressed longstanding concerns about federal deficits, one must be an irredeemable hypocrite. But lower taxes and smaller deficits can coexist.

    Some examples of the criticism: Neera Tanden wrote in NBC news of the “staggering hypocrisy” inherent in passing “shameful tax cut legislation” after sponsors had previously warned of a “forthcoming debt crisis.” Robert Schlesinger opined in US News & World Report that the legislation suggested “an incredible case of cognitive dissonance or simple breathtaking hypocrisy and/or duplicity.” Ezra Klein fumed at Vox that lawmakers who supported the bill were “nihilists.”

    This refrain was repeated on editorial pages nationwide: you could be for deficit reduction, or alternatively, you could be for tax cuts. Only a nihilist hypocrite could possibly have taken both positions.

    The Case for Lower Taxes and Smaller Deficits

    Beyond its closed-mindedness, this outpouring of indignation was all premised on a mistaken foundational assumption. It is entirely possible to be for both lower taxes and smaller deficits. In fact, I would argue this was not only possible but that it represented the most responsible policy position given the projections lawmakers faced when the tax bill was debated. (Disclaimer: the following should not be misinterpreted as necessarily an endorsement of the specific tax legislation, nor of prioritizing tax relief over fiscal consolidation.)

    When the tax bill was debated, lawmakers faced baseline budget projections that looked like this:

    Everything on this graph is shown as a percentage of GDP, so in effect, this shows how both federal spending and (to a lesser extent) revenue collections are growing faster than our economic output. Beyond the time window shown here, the long-term fiscal picture looked even worse. Spending would continue to rise dramatically faster than our ability to finance it, threatening escalating deficits in the decades ahead.

    The graph also shows that undertaxation is not the cause of this fiscal gap. Over the next decade, tax burdens were actually projected to be higher than the historical average and to increase gradually faster than our economic capacity.

    This was not and is not a stable situation. Taxing and spending as a share of our economy cannot keep increasing forever. (Actually, there is a theoretical sense in which we can spend more than 100% of our economic output if all spending takes the form of domestic income transfers. In other words, we could theoretically tax people several times the amount of their income, provided that we simultaneously write government checks that give it all back to them.

    However, this is neither practicable nor politically feasible. In the real world, we must moderate both our tax and spending growth. Fixing this problem within historical political norms would mean cutting future spending growth substantially – but importantly, also lowering some future tax growth, even as projected deficits are reduced.

    In other words, the baseline budget picture was such that there was no contradiction between reducing projected deficits and lowering projected tax collections. Indeed, that is exactly what a solution consistent with historical experience would require.

    The Case against Lower Taxes and Smaller Deficits

    Now, there is a standpoint from which it would be inconsistent to claim support for both lower taxes and smaller deficits – specifically if one argued that projected spending growth must never be slowed. Some progressives seek not only to preserve currently projected spending growth but to add enormously to it.

    In this mindset, deficits could only be closed if tax collections rise faster than projected. Importantly, this would still not produce a stable budget situation because tax collections would need to grow much faster than Americans’ ability to pay them. Nevertheless, some advocates effectively take this policy position.

    But those who voted for the tax bill are not generally guilty of this. To the contrary, those members have repeatedly been assailed for their allegedly heartless determination to cut spending. House Speaker Paul Ryan has even been depicted — in one particularly revolting ad a few years ago — as dumping an innocent grandmother out of her wheelchair over a cliff, because of his efforts to address rising entitlement spending. And just a few months before their tax vote, lawmakers were attacked for supposedly taking away people’s health care because of their efforts to tackle hundreds of billions of dollars in projected spending growth under the ACA.

    Credit and Criticism Where It’s Due

    It is legitimate to oppose legislation to slow the growth of federal spending, if one believes that spending is needed. But one cannot fairly attack legislators who try to address runaway spending growth, and then later assail those same legislators as hypocrites for widening the deficit.

    Now, it is fair to criticize sponsors of deficit-widening legislation for denying they are increasing the debt. There has been a regrettable amount of such denial, where the public would have been better served to hear arguments as to why the benefits of tax cuts outweighed the downside of a debt increase.

    One can simply assume growth-stimulation effects under which tax cuts do not add to long-term debt, but non-partisan scorekeepers widely reject them — in the same way they rejected assumptions crafted during the last administration to conclude additional stimulus spending could pay for itself. Advocates should acknowledge adverse fiscal consequences of any legislation under consideration, even as they argue for its passage.

    The bottom line is this: prior to the tax legislation, lawmakers faced projections in which both tax burdens and spending patterns exceeded historical norms and were projected to rise still further, driven principally by growth in the major federal health entitlements and Social Security. The merits of this specific tax bill aside, a responsible and sustainable fiscal policy would reduce both projected spending and deficits substantially, while also slowing tax growth somewhat, and ensuring that neither taxes nor spending ultimately grow faster than our ability to finance them.

    Recognizing these realities involves no hypocrisy, but attacking lawmakers for fiscal recklessness — just a few months after taking political advantage of their efforts to rein in part of the federal spending explosion — most certainly does.

    Reprinted from Economics 21.


    Charles Blahous

    Charles Blahous is a senior research fellow for the Mercatus Center, a research fellow for the Hoover Institution, a public trustee for Social Security and Medicare, and a contributor to e21.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.