Once again, Florida lawmakers debate Internet sales tax

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The Florida House will again address Internet sales taxes this session, but it is uncertain they will actually do anything this time.

“I think we got a pretty good pulse of where the executive branch sits on this,” Rep. Ritch Workman, chair of the Finance and Tax subcommittee told James L. Rosica of the Tampa Tribune. “We may bring something back … It’s difficult to answer.”

With Gov. Rick Scott touting a plan to reduce $500 million in taxes and fees, it seems highly unlikely any new taxes will make it through the Legislature. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers aren’t trying.

Workman, a Republican from Melbourne, said any proposed bill would be “revenue neutral,” offsetting new tax revenue with sales tax holidays, like the popular tax-free weekend for school supplies and clothes.

In this session, the debate may hinge on how supporters will frame the argument on Internet sales taxes—painting the image of a new tax as a matter of simple fairness. By allowing online vendors to collect the same as brick-and-mortar shops, an Internet sales tax levels the playing field. Florida’s current sales tax is 6 percent.

Spurring this latest round of talks is Amazon’s announcement that it will create distribution centers in Florida, likely in Lakeland and Ruskin. New facilities could generate as much as $300 million in construction and 3,000 jobs, as well as making shipments in Florida much quicker.

The issue is with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that online companies without in-state facilities do not have to collect sales taxes on purchases made in that state. That rule is a holdover from the days of mail order and catalog sales.

Florida does have a rarely enforced rule requiring collection of sales tax on any purchase of goods used or consumed in the state. There are even forms provided by the Department of Revenue.

“So what I’m trying to do is decriminalize you,” Workman told the Tribune. “Retailers provide us a service, and you don’t have to remit your own sales tax. That same service should be provided on Internet transactions as well.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.