Lawmakers swamped with anti-tax emails, form letters

OLYMPIA — “My office has received more than 600 identical emails from constituents,” wrote Sen. Kevin Van de Wege, D-Sequim, via email this week.

All of them, said the District 24 senator, are “asking me to oppose a provision in House Bill 2186 that would require out-of- state sellers and online marketplaces to collect the same sales taxes that all other out-of-state and online sellers collect.”

HB 2186 is the House’s proposed state budget funding mechanism and contains a variety of code changes, including the collection of sales taxes for goods sold over the internet, Van de Wege said. It’s stalled right now in negotiations with Senate Republicans over how the state should raise the billions it needs to operate state government and meet its court-mandated education funding requirements.

Van de Wege and Reps. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, represent Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County for District 24.

The senator said “it is clear the emails are the result of a campaign by eBay” — the California-based online retailer — “to try to resist collecting the taxes required of other business operations.”

Most other internet retailers remit sales taxes to the states they are due to under a national compact, said Van de Wege, but not eBay.

The form letter-style emails, said Van de Wege, come from persons in both major political parties all over District 24. The senders are convinced that the internet tax proposed by HB 2186 is wrong.

On its website at www.ebaymainstreet.com, eBay presents its rationale for opposing HB 2186.

“A budget proposal recently introduced would require internet marketplaces to collect and remit Washington sales tax for any transactions involving Washington buyers, including out-of-state purchases you make from even the smallest businesses,” it says.

The Legislature, says eBay, “is threatening internet commerce, especially small businesses, artisans and consumer sellers, through legislation that will impose tax burdens on small businesses and your favorite consumer- and small business-friendly online marketplaces.”

Van de Wege doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m taking the view that it would level the playing field and raise money we need for schools,” he said.

Online retailers such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Amazon and many others remit the tax to Washington, he said, while acknowledging that there might be others which do not.

In his email, Van de Wege said that eBay’s strategy continues “an uneven playing field that has placed Washington businesses at a competitive disadvantage with businesses outside the state” which do not pay sales tax.

Under HB 2186, online sellers would collect the same sales tax as “brick and mortar” stores do; out-of-state internet retailers, like many on eBay, would be required to collect the same sales tax as in-state sellers do.

The bill’s proposal would allow retailers to either collect and remit the tax to the state or file a report each year with the Department of Revenue including buyers’ names, purchases, prices and the mailing or shipping addresses.

In the latter option, retailers would be required to file a report each year with the state Department of Revenue including buyers’ names, their purchases, their mailing and shipping addresses and how much they spent. With the latter option, the state could collect the sales tax from the buyers.

“This fix isn’t just about fairness for Washington businesses,” said Van de Wege via email. “It’s about protecting the jobs these businesses create that employ Washingtonians in communities in every corner of our state.”

Chapman said he has received more than 1,000 of the eBay emails.

“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from various sectors,” said the House assistant majority whip, adding that “people don’t email to support new taxes.”

The problem, he said, is that the House and Senate are negotiating to figure out how to fund government and come up with billions of dollars needed to fund education.

If the Legislature decides to cut, “we’ll get emails from people who are upset about things getting cut.”

Chapman said the Legislature can’t “make policy based on numbers of emails,” though. He noted that he has received many emails from people concerned about real estate tax, capital gains tax and property tax proposals that are all being considered for the biennial budget.

He added that he and Tharinger will be in Olympia for the next two weeks as lawmakers from the two parties continue to negotiate a budget deal before the end of the special session and end of the state’s fiscal year force a government shutdown.

“Shutting down … is untenable for me. It’s not something I would support in any way, shape or form,” he said.

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Assistant Managing Editor Mark Swanson can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55450, or mswanson@peninsuladailynews.com.

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