Deep breath: Senate set to vote on Internet sales tax

A vote is imminent, and the long-debated measure to require e-retailers to collect sales taxes in most states could actually pass.

Get ready to open your wallets another 5 - 10 percent wider for online purchases. Declan McCullagh/CNET

Many polls from the past few years have found that lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are just slightly less popular than catching the flu while on a beach vacation. Remarkably, the U.S. Senate could approve a bill this week that will likely make lawmakers even less popular with many online shoppers.

The Senate is expected to vote as early as Monday on the long-debated issue of an Internet sales tax . The bill being considered in Washington now would require online outlets with sales of at least $1 million to collect sales tax in all states, even those in which they don't have a store, warehouse or other physical operations. Today those taxes don't have to be collected by e-retailers in states they don't set (flesh or robot) foot in.

For consumers, it's really a moot point though, as shoppers are responsible for paying their own sales tax to their home state on all online purchases. So an Internet sales tax will actually do away with the laborious American tradition of tracking all online purchases, calculating sales tax owed and sending a check to your state capital at tax time.

Wait, what's that? You've never written that check? Never even heard of such a thing?

Don't worry, you're not alone. It's estimated that as little as 1 percent of online shoppers voluntarily pay sales taxes that aren't collected by sellers, and very little (if any) effort is made to enforce the requirement in most places.

So an Internet sales tax could actually mean more money out of your pocket, even if it's money you and I were supposed to be paying already, anyway.

Titans of e-retail like Amazon and eBay have led the fight against collecting sales tax for years, but this time around Amazon is actually supporting the bill and eBay's opposition is more nuanced, lobbying for small businesses with less than $10 million in out-of-state sales to be exempted from collecting sales tax.

There's still plenty of opposition to the measure, but the idea seems to have as good a chance right now as ever before of actually becoming law.

If the bill passes the Senate, it must still clear the House of Representatives and the President's desk before becoming law.

If that happens, I'm sure we'll all breathe a sigh of relief at the elimination of all those feelings of guilt from never self-paying your online sales taxes. Plus, more money for schools and roads... and senatorial salaries! Everyone wins, right?

 

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