Time for Congress to Level the Playing Field | Commentary

As business owners in Washington, D.C., we believe in something that most brick-and-mortar retailers do — free and fair market competition. That’s why we ask that e-fairness legislation be passed without further delay. Unfortunately, online-only sellers continue to enjoy an unfair, government-sanctioned advantage over local community shops through a loophole that allows them to avoid collecting and remitting sales tax. This tax disparity puts our local businesses at a significant economic disadvantage and stifles the overall economy.

Of course, not everyone agrees that online-only sellers should play by the same rules. Opponents of e-fairness say it would represent a new tax or increase in taxes. Neither is true. When an online-only seller doesn’t collect the sales tax from a purchase, the burden falls on the customer to calculate and remit the tax directly to the state. Requiring payment of sales tax for online purchases wouldn’t be a new tax; it’s a tax that’s already due.

E-fairness opponents will also tell you that online sales tax collection would be too burdensome for businesses. Again, that’s not true. The same technology that makes online retail a reality has already simplified sales tax calculation and collection for retailers. Many software companies have been offering solutions for years, and additional technology would emerge to keep pace with modern shopping habits.

The real reason that opponents don’t like e-fairness is that it would take away their pricing advantage. They’re happy to advertise “tax-free” shopping to lure customers when, in fact, they leave customers with a tax liability. This price advantage results in showrooming, which is a reality that unfortunately we live with daily. Customers come to our stores, survey our products, and then turn to online-only sellers that can offer lower prices. At the end of the day, retailers should compete on a level playing field, not on one where a government-imposed tax collection requirement discriminates against community-based, brick-and-mortar retailers while favoring online-only sellers.

With the holiday shopping season approaching, it’s time for Congress to pass e-fairness legislation. Businesses in Washington, D.C., and across the nation have been waiting far too long for action. Congress has punted the issue repeatedly when it should have focused on protecting businesses like ours that are vital to the economic health of local communities. The issue of e-fairness has bipartisan support, and even more importantly, every legislator who has supported the issue has won his or her primary race this election season. We urge the House of Representatives and the Senate to take immediate steps and enact e-fairness legislation before the end of this year.

Bradley Graham has co-owned Politics & Prose Bookstore since 2011. Previously, he spent 30 years with The Washington Post. Dawn Price is the founder and owner of Dawn Price Baby, which has served the greater Washington, D.C., community since 2004. David M. Boone is vice president of Boone and Sons, a family jewelry business that has been in the District of Columbia for more than 50 years. Tam Sullivan is the owner of Sullivan’s Toys, Washington’s, oldest toy store still in operation, which has been family owned and operated since 1954.

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