Conservative groups split on online sales tax bill

Conservative groups are split over legislation that would allow states to collect sales taxes on purchases made on the Internet.

The American Conservative Union, American Majority, and Americans for Job Security are among the supportive groups arguing that the law will promote fair competition among all retailers.

“A robust free-market system requires a level playing field, where the government doesn’t get to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. Senator Enzi and Congressman Womack deserve praise for their efforts to empower states to make their own revenue policy choices and create a fair system of tax collection,” American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas said in a statement.

“Current law on Internet retail sales does not promote transparency; instead it countenances a hidden subsidy to a certain kind of business. To support this is not a conservative position and actually undermines one of conservatism’s cardinal principles: the rule of law,” Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a group that also supports the bill, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.

On top of these groups, many Republican elected officials at both the federal and state level, notably governors seeking a new stream of revenue, have come out to support of the measure.

Some of these conservatives cite a 2001 column by William F. Buckley, Jr. titled “Get that Internet tax right,” in which he expressed his concern over the preferential treatment that could arise from leaving the Web tax-free.

“If the advantage of tax-free Internet commerce marginally closes out local industry, reforms are required,” Buckley wrote more than a decade ago. “The mattress maker in Connecticut is willing to compete with the company in Massachusetts, but does not like it if out-of-state businesses are, in practical terms, subsidized; that’s what the non-tax amounts to. Local concerns are complaining about traffic in mattresses and books and records and computer equipment which, ordered through the Internet, come in, so to speak, duty free.”