Word is that Illinois legislators are considering click-through nexus, also known as an “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. ,” pushed by revenue officials who claim that it would raise $150 million a year in revenue. Such laws, nicknamed after their most visible target, require retailers that have contracts with “affiliates”-independent persons within the state who post a link to an out-of-state business on their website and get a share of revenues from the out-of-state business-to collect the state’s 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. . They exist in New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Colorado.
Last year, we issued a report identifying the trend and demonstrating that states were abandoning “first-generation” version of these taxes, since they failed to produce any revenue and led to extended and unresolved litigation. The “second-generation” versions of these taxes, emphasizing mandatory disclosure of use tax obligations to consumers, are also enmeshed in litigation, with one version struck down in North Carolina on First Amendment grounds.
I spoke too soon: Illinois’s version is a traditional first-generation “Amazon” tax that targets affiliates. Contrary to the claims of supporters, Amazon taxes do not provide easy revenue. In fact, the nation’s first few Amazon taxes have not produced any revenue at all, and there is some evidence of lost revenue. For instance, Rhode Island has seen no additional sales tax revenue from its Amazon tax, and because Amazon reacted by discontinuing its affiliate program, Rhode Islanders are earning less income and paying less income tax. There’s no reason why Illinois wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
Enacting an Amazon tax law also sends a signal of hostility to businesses engaged in interstate commerce, runs the serious risk of retaliation from other states and from affected businesses, and undermines efforts to improve the uniformity of state sales taxes.
More on “Amazon taxes” in other states:
- Online Sales Tax Debate, by Joseph Henchman, December 20, 2010
- New York Court Sends “Amazon Tax” Case Back for More Information, by Joseph Henchman, November 4, 2010
- ACLU Joins Fight against the North Carolina “Amazon Tax” Disclosure Demands, by Arushi Sharma, June 24, 2010
- Replies to Questions from Rep. Steve Cohen on State Taxation and Congressional Power, by Joseph Henchman, June 4, 2010
- Maryland Considers “Amazon Tax”, by Joseph Henchman, March 19, 2010
- “Amazon Tax”: Not a Money Maker, by Natasha Altamirano, March 11, 2010
- New Podcast: Jeffrey Reed on “Amazon” Taxes, by Natasha Altamirano, November 11, 2009