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Focus on Agriculture

April 3, 2013

Marketplace Fairness Act Supports Main Street Businesses

By Sen. Dick Durbin

Main Street store owners in Illinois tell me how unfair it is to watch their online competitors offer lower prices on the exact same products because they do not have to collect sales taxes. Customers often come into their stores, try out the latest products and then return home to purchase the product online and avoid taxes.

Local businesses call it “showrooming” and it isn’t just a problem in Illinois.

It’s happening in cities, towns and farming communities all around the country. These are communities that can’t afford to lose local businesses that sponsor baseball teams and collect sales taxes that pay for services like fire and police and provide good-paying local jobs. Those of us from downstate Illinois know what happens to our towns when these Main Street businesses close.

I commend Farm Bureau for supporting the bipartisan Marketplace Fairness Act that I introduced with Sens. Enzi, Alexander and Heitkamp.

There are some critics who will say our bill is a tax increase. Not true. Our bill does not create one new penny in taxes, it simply allows states to require merchants who sell products online to collect taxes on sales to consumers in that state – just as Main Street businesses do every day.

Some will say that online retailers don’t use the local services that a tax would pay for so they should not be required to collect the sales taxes.

How is the gift I ordered online last year supposed to be delivered to my home in Springfield, Ill., without using local roads or bridges paid for by local taxes?

The truth is that brick-and-mortar and online retailers sell similar products and use the same roads and bridges to deliver their products that every other business – including farmers – uses to move their products.

Twenty-two governors – 15 Republicans and seven Democrats – support leveling the playing field for businesses by addressing sales tax fairness. Collecting the taxes that are owed on a purchase at the point-of-sale rather than relying on consumers to pay that tax voluntarily as much as a year later would mean $23 billion for states.

With that funding, many states and localities have said they would avoid increasing other types of taxes like property taxes or they would invest in vital programs for residents and critical infrastructure: the very same infrastructure that farmers, brick-and-mortar retailers and online retailers all use to deliver products and services to their customers.

Recently, the Senate showed overwhelming bipartisan support for our effort to level the playing field for small businesses. Seventy-five senators voted in favor of an amendment I introduced with Sens. Enzi, Alexander and Heitkamp to the Senate Budget Resolution. While this was an important show of support, it was symbolic. In order for this bill to become law, we need another vote.


U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is the Senate’s assistant majority leader.