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Amazon Tax Update: California and Tennessee Developments

1 min readBy: Richard Morrison

The debate over out-of-state retailers collecting sales taxes on purchases rolls on, with new developments on such “Amazon” taxes cropping up this week in both the Golden and Volunteer states. This week the California Board of Equalization held hearings on the implementation of the state’s recently passed version of the Amazon taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. .

Despite a recent referendum by Amazon, the California State Board of Equalization moved to implement the tax yesterday with a three to two vote. The board directed staff members to get an opinion from the State Attorney General on how the referendum process may change the effectiveness of the tax.

That possible referendum, if supporters can collect the signatures to get it on the ballot, would put the issue of the tax before state voters. Recent polling finds that Californians are fairly closely split on the issue, opposing the tax only by a slim margin.

Several states over in Tennessee, an association of brick-and-mortar retailers has threatened to sue the state if governmental officials don’t require Amazon to start collecting sales taxes from in-state customers once two Amazon distribution facilities open.

In late May, the Amazon sales taxA sales tax is levied on retail sales of goods and services and, ideally, should apply to all final consumption with few exemptions. Many governments exempt goods like groceries; base broadening, such as including groceries, could keep rates lower. A sales tax should exempt business-to-business transactions which, when taxed, cause tax pyramiding. bill was postponed until next year in the General Assembly to give Cooper time to write his opinion. The bill sponsors say they are ready to come back with it in 2012 but also say they are willing to accept a compromise that exempts Amazon from having to collect the tax for two to three years. Hamilton and Bradley lawmakers say that flies in the face of the deal that was cut with Amazon to get them here.

Both Attorney General Jim White and state revenue officials have declined to offer a opinion on the dispute thus far.