Brick-And-Mortar Relief Bill Passes US Senate

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A bill which supporters say will provide substantial relief to brick-and-mortar retailers in their struggle to compete with online sellers has passed the US Senate, 69-27. 

The bill would authorize states to compel online merchants to collect sales tax in a similar manner that traditional merchants do, thereby leveling a playing field that has been tilted toward digital commerce.

Heretofore, online merchants have been able to sell their goods tax-free, giving them an effective price advantage that can range up to 9 percent, depending on the state and locality.  

In the pool and spa industry, this consumer price advantage, along with the lower operating costs inherent in an online business, has driven ever greater market share toward online sellers.

The bill poses something of a dilemma for some legislators in the House, as it raises taxes and expands government bureaucracy, which many republicans oppose, while establishing fairness in the marketplace and giving a huge assist to traditional retailers — goals that attract general support. 

“It's probably more complicated in the House,” Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.) the chief House supporter of the bill, told the Wall Street Journal. “There's a lot of political difficulty getting through the fog of it looking like a tax increase.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) agrees the current system is unfair, but is concerned about opening the door to more tax increases beyond the supposed boundaries of this bill’s purpose. He recently told a group of supporters gathered in Racine, Wis., “I'd like to think there's a way to address this inequity without giving the government power to expand taxing authority beyond that intent.”

For pool and spa retailers looking to weigh in with their representatives on the matter, now would be the time.

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