Virginia Plans to Advance Internet Sales Tax Legislation as Opponents Aim to Roll Back Supreme Court’s Wayfair Decision

The Supreme Court’s recent South Dakota v. Wayfair decision allowing States to collect tax owed on remote internet sales purchases could generate an estimated $250 million in annual revenue for the state of Virginia, which is aiming to start its online sales tax program this summer. 

The Real Estate Roundtable and seven other national trade organizations wrote to congressional leaders on Sept. 17, 2018 opposing any legislation that reverses or limits the Supreme Court’s June 22 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which allows States to collect tax owed on remote internet sales purchases.

  • Many states are seeking to expand their tax authority over online sales in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 21 South Dakota v. Wayfair decision.  The 5-4 Wayfair ruling strongly suggests that South Dakota’s law requiring remote sellers to collect sales tax on more than $100,000 of in-state sales or 200 transactions complies with constitutional law.  
  • Virginia Finance Secretary Aubrey L. Layne Jr. recently told Bloomberg Tax that a state bill in next year’s Virginia legislative session would align with principles supported in the high court’s Wayfair decision.  Layne said details of the bill may be unveiled in December and added, “My guess is it probably won’t be effective until July.”  (BNA, Oct. 30) 
  • Despite the Wayfair ruling, a bipartisan quartet of House members led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced legislation on Sept. 13 that would  prohibit states from requiring remote sellers with less than $10 million in national annual sales from collecting and remitting sales and use taxes – pending a compact approved by Congress.  In addition to Sensenbrenner’s Online Sales Simplicity and Small Business Relief Act of 2018 (H.R. 6824), other bills in Congress would go even further in reversing the Wayfair decision.   (Tax Notes, Nov. 7)
  • Opponents of the decision are asking Congress to include restrictions on States in an end-of-year bill.  (Bloomberg, Oct. 24).  However, legislation to roll back Wayfair is unlikely.  Any major legislation must be negotiated by leaders of both parties, who have limited time during a Lame Duck session.  Congressional negotiators are expected instead to focus on a handful of “must pass” bills. 
  • The Real Estate Roundtable and seven other national trade organizations wrote to congressional leaders on Sept. 17 opposing legislation that reverses or limits Wayfair.  (Wayfair Comment Letter, Sept. 17) 

The business coalition letter explains that for more than a decade, industry groups “have undertaken significant efforts to establish economic parity between online and brick-and-mortar sellers that would better reflect the changing dynamics of today’s omnichannel marketplace. For Congress to insert themselves post-ruling only creates additional uncertainty and further complicates the implementation process, while undermining the level playing field created by the Wayfair decision.”  (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 21) 

The eight organizations conclude the letter by offering to work with Congress on any problems that may arise from state implementation of remote internet sales tax collection allowed by Wayfair.  (Roundtable Weekly, June 22)

 

Real Estate and Business Organizations Oppose Legislation Challenging Supreme Court Decision on Internet Sales Tax

The Real Estate Roundtable and seven other national trade organizations wrote to congressional leaders this week opposing legislation that reverses or limits the Supreme Court’s June 22 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which allows States to collect tax owed on remote internet sales purchases. (Wayfair Comment Letter, Sept. 17)

The Real Estate Roundtable and seven other national trade organizations wrote to congressional leaders this week opposing legislation that reverses or limits the Supreme Court’s June 22 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which allows States to collect tax owed on remote internet sales purchases.

  • Despite the high court’s Wayfair ruling, a bipartisan quartet of House members led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced legislation on Sept. 13 that would bar states from collecting taxes from out-of-state internet vendors until 2019.
  • Other bills would go even further in reversing the Wayfair decision.  They include the Stop Taxing Our Potential Act of 2018 (S. 3180), introduced by Sen. John Tester (D-MT) and the Protecting Small Business from Burdensome Compliance Costs Act (H.R. 6724). introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs. The likelihood that legislation challenging Wayfair will get through the current Congress, especially with the mid-term elections fast approaching, is slim.  (Politico, Sept 17)
  • The business coalition letter to Senate and House leadership explains that over the better part of a decade, these industry groups “have undertaken significant efforts to establish economic parity between online and brick-and-mortar sellers that would better reflect the changing dynamics of today’s omnichannel marketplace. For Congress to insert themselves post-ruling only creates additional uncertainty and further complicates the implementation process, while undermining the level playing field created by the Wayfair decision.” 

The eight organizations conclude the letter by offering to work with Congress on any problems that may arise from state implementation of remote internet sales tax collection allowed by Wayfair.  (Roundtable Weekly, June 22)

 

Supreme Court Rules States Can Collect Sales Tax from Online Retailers; Uniform Collection Standards Present Significant Challenge

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled 5-4 in South Dakota v. Wayfair to expand States’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases from retailers who do not have a physical presence in a state. 

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled 5-4 in South Dakota v. Wayfair to expand States’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases from retailers who do not have a physical presence in a state.

  • Real Estate Roundtable President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey DeBoer commended the Court’s long-anticipated ruling.  He noted the decision “rejects an antiquated ‘physical presence’ standard. That test exempted on-line retailers from collecting sales and use taxes – yet imposed those obligations on traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers.  DeBoer also noted the ruling “will enable states to collect much-needed revenue to provide public services and invest in local infrastructure projects.”  (Roundtable Statement, June 21)
  • The Roundtable on March 5, 2018 joined The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), Investment Program Association, Nareit®, the National Association of REALTORS® , the National Multifamily Housing Council, NAIOP, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation in filing an amicus curiae brief.  (Roundtable Weekly, March 9) 
  • While the Wayfair decision overturns previous case law, it also creates the potential for a patchwork of state-level collect and remit statutes, which may lead to efforts by Congress to simplify States’ tax collection practices. 
  • Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion: “Eventually, software that is available at a reasonable cost may make it easier for small businesses to cope with these problems. Indeed, as the physical presence rule no longer controls, those systems may well become available in a short period of time, either from private providers or from state taxing agencies themselves. And in all events, Congress may legislate to address these problems if it deems it necessary and fit to do so.” (Supreme Court opinionSouth Dakota vs. Wayfair
  • In the dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts reflected his belief that the decision could preclude a federal solution from Congress: “Armed with today’s decision, state officials can be expected to redirect their attention from working with Congress on a national solution, to securing new tax revenue from remote retailers.” (Supreme Court opinionSouth Dakota vs. Wayfair

ICSC President and Chief Executive Officer Tom McGee said, “We understand this is a major step in a long process, but look forward to working with policymakers and business owners to find state-level legislative solutions which promote fairness and competition.” (CoStar News, June 21) 

The Roundable’s DeBoer added, “We stand ready to assist policymakers should they respond to today’s decision with legislation that provides our nation’s businesses with fair standards to collect the tax that is owed on online sales.”  (Roundtable Statement, June 21)

Real Estate Roundtable Commends Supreme Court Decision to End Tax Discrimination Against Main Street Retailers

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — Real Estate Roundtable President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey DeBoer released the following statement on today’s Supreme Court decision  (5-4) in South Dakota v. Wayfair expanding States’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases from retailers who do not have a physical presence in a state.

“The Real Estate Roundtable commends the Supreme Court for their decision today that ends tax discrimination against Main Street retailers by expanding States’ authority to collect sales taxes on e-commerce purchases. 

Today’s ruling is long overdue and rejects an antiquated “physical presence” standard.  That test exempted on-line retailers from collecting sales and use taxes – yet imposed those obligations on traditional “brick-and-mortar” retailers. 

The ruling will enable states to collect much-needed revenue to provide public services and invest in local infrastructure projects.  Research data from The National Conference of State Legislatures and International Council of Shopping Centers shows that nearly 26 billion dollars in state and local sales taxes from online sales went uncollected in 2015. 

Many issues remain for Congress to craft a uniform, efficient system. We stand ready to assist policymakers should they respond to today’s decision with legislation that provides our nation’s businesses with  fair standards to collect the tax that is owed on online sales.”

The Roundtable on March 5, 2018 joined The International Council of Shopping Centers, Investment Program Association, Nareit®, the National Association of REALTORS® , the National Multifamily Housing Council, NAIOP, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation in filing an amicus curiae brief.  

The Real Estate Roundtable brings together leaders of the nation’s publicly-held and privately owned real estate ownership, development, lending and management firms with the leaders of national real estate trade associations to jointly address key national policy issues relating to real estate and the overall economy.

Supreme Court Appears Divided During Oral Arguments on Expanding Statesโ€™ Authority to Collect Taxes on E-Commerce Purchases; Decision Expected by June

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments on a long-awaited case (South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., No. 17-494 ) that addresses the constitutionality of states’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases from retailers who do not have a physical presence in a state.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard  oral arguments  on a long-awaited case (South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., No. 17-494  ) that addresses the constitutionality of states’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases from retailers who do not have a physical presence in a state

The Wayfair case challenges two pre-Internet Supreme Court decisions from 1991 and 1967 (Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298, and National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, 386 U.S. 753, respectively).  This pair of decades-old opinions exempts many internet merchants from collecting billions of dollars in sales taxes.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that state and local governments could have collected an estimated 8 to 13 billion dollars in 2017 if states were given authority to require sales tax collection from all remote sellers. (GAO report, Dec. 18, 2017).  

During this week’s oral argument on Wayfair, the nine justices offered divided views.  For example, Justice Elena Kagan commented, “Congress is capable of crafting compromises and trying to figure out how to balance the wide range of interests involved here.”  Justice Sonia Sotomayor added, “Is there anything we can do to give Congress a signal it should act more affirmatively in this area?” (CQ, April 17) 

Three justices – Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy – have expressed a willingness in past writings to rethink the Court’s case law in this area.  On Tuesday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested now is the time for the Quill ruling to be corrected. Ginsburg asked, “If time and changing conditions have rendered it obsolete, why should the court which created the doctrine say, ‘Well, we’ll let Congress fix up what turns out to be our obsolete precedent?'” (Reuters and Wall Street Journal, April 17 / AP, April 18)

Justice Stephen Breyer also noted, “When I read your briefs, I thought absolutely right. And then I read through the other briefs, and I thought absolutely right. And you cannot both be absolutely right.” (Bloomberg Law, April 17) 

During the Supreme Court’s  oral argument on Wayfair , the nine justices offered divided views. See  transcript .

Throughout decades of congressional efforts, legislation to level the tax playing field between Internet-based retailers and “brick and mortar” stores has never passed both chambers. More recently, President Trump has signaled his support for legislation authorizing states to impose sales tax collection requirements on online purchases. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 23) 

The Roundtable joined The International Council of Shopping Centers, Investment Program Association, Nareit®, the National Association of REALTORS® , the National Multifamily Housing Council, NAIOP, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation in filing an amicus curiae brief on March 5, urging the Justices to overrule the antiquated, pre-internet, “physical presence” test that imposes collection of sales and use taxes on traditional “brick-and-mortar” retailers – while exempting on-line retailers from those same obligations.  The March brief re-iterated many points set forth by a real estate coalition in an initial amicus brief filed last November. (Roundtable Weekly,   March 9, 2018  and Nov. 3. 2017

On Wednesday, a USA Today editorial supported the real estate industry’s viewpoint, while also including an opposing view.  (USA Today, Tax Online Shopping Like All Others, April 17) 

The Supreme Court is expected to render a decision in Wayfair by the end of June. (Wall Street Journal, April 17 and Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 12)

Real Estate Industry Urges Supreme Court to Expand Statesโ€™ Authority to Collect Taxes on E-Commerce Purchases

The Roundtable joined an industry coalition in filing an amicus curiae brief on March 5 with the U.S. Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., No. 17-494 – a case that addresses the constitutionality of states’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases. (SCOTUSblog)  

  The Roundtable joined an industry coalition in filing an amicus curiae brief  on March 5 with the U.S. Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., No. 17-494  – a case that addresses the constitutionality of states’ authority to collect sales and use taxes on Internet consumer purchases.

After the high Court accepted Wayfair in January, the case has become the long-awaited judicial vehicle that may level the playing field between Internet-based retailers and “brick and mortar” stores.  The industry amicus brief, drafted by former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman and his colleague Ari Holtzblatt, urges the Supreme Court to overturn a pair of decades-old decisions (e.g., Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992) and National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois (1967).  Wayfair directly challenges these pre-Internet opinions, which prohibit states from imposing tax collection obligations on web-based, catalog, and other retailers that lack an in-state physical presence.

In today’s e-commerce driven world, the brief notes, the law should focus on retailers’ economic rather than physical presence, and level the playing field for all retailers who have in-state sales above a certain threshold.

The brief explains how the outmoded court decisions continue to have damaging effects that reach far beyond actual brick-and-mortar outlets. “First, the loss of physical stores, many of which are integral to the social fabric of their communities, increases unemployment and creates a sense of dislocation among community residents. Second, the decline in the retail sector reduces the value of retail real estate, discourages further development of retail properties, and impedes innovation in the retail sector. Third, the lost revenue from sales, property, and income taxes threatens the ability of state and local governments to provide much-needed public services, including those that benefit online retailers,” the brief states.

The Roundtable joined The International Council of Shopping Centers, Investment Program Association, Nareit®, the National Association of REALTORS® , the National Multifamily Housing Council, NAIOP, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation on the amicus brief, which re-iterates many points set forth by a real estate coalition in an initialamicus  brief filed last November. (Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 3, 2017)

Trump Administration Solicitor General Noel Francisco also joined the wave of other submissions to SCOTUS on March 5.  The Justice Department brief states, “In light of internet retailers’ pervasive and continuous virtual presence in the states where their websites are accessible, the states have ample authority to require those retailers to collect state sales taxes owed by their customers.”  (Amicus brief of USA and Wall Street Journal, March 5)

SCOTUS is scheduled to hear oral argument on April 17 and is expected to render a decision by the end of June. (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 12)

Mnuchin: President Supports Sales Tax for Online Purchases; GAO Study Shows States Losing Billions from Tax-Free Sales

As expectations grow that the Supreme Court will rule on the issue of state and local taxation of internet purchases by this summer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently testified before two congressional committees about President Trump’s support for an online sales tax.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently testified before two congressional committees about President Trump’s support for an online sales tax.

During a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Mnuchin addressed taxing online purchases through the Marketplace Fairness Act, stating: “[T]he president fundamentally supports the idea of some type of sales tax across the board … There are aspects of that he likes a lot and he looks forward to working with you and others on it.” (Video of Exchange with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), C-Span, Jan. 30) 

At a Feb. 15 House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Mnuchin said the president “does feel strongly” that the U.S. should impose a sales tax on purchases made over the Internet. (Bloomberg, Feb. 15)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study in December estimating that state and local governments could have collected an estimated 8 to 13 billion dollars in 2017 if states were given authority to require sales tax collection from all remote sellers. (GAO report, Dec. 18, 2017).  The Roundtable has recommended that sales taxes collected from on-line consumer purchases may provide a reliable source of state and local revenue to help pay for President Trump’s recently proposed infrastructure re-building plan.  (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 26, 2011.)

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., on April 17 to resolve the constitutionality of collecting sales and use taxes that are due on Internet purchases.  The high court is expected to render a decision by the end of June. (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 12)

The International Council of Shopping Centers, Investment Program Association, Nareit®, and the National Association of REALTORS® will join The Roundtable on an amicus brief to be filed early next month in Wayfair, urging the Supreme Court to overturn a pair of decades-old opinions prohibiting states from imposing sales and use tax collection obligations on web-based, catalog, and other retailers lacking an in-state physical presence.  The upcoming brief will re-iterate many of the points that the real estate coalition set forth in an initial amicus brief filed last November  (Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 3, 2017.)

U.S. Supreme Court to Address Marketplace Fairness Issue; Decision Expected by July Regarding Sales Tax Collection on E-Commerce Purchases

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) today agreed to address an issue that has long vexed the retail real estate sector, and deprived states and localities of much-needed tax revenue for infrastructure development and other community needs. The nation’s highest court “granted cert” in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., to resolve the lingering debate over the constitutionality of collecting sales and use taxes that are due on consumer purchases made over the Internet.

  

South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.  is the latest judicial vehicle to seek a ruling from the nation’s highest Court to resolve the lingering debate over Internet sales tax collection. The International Council of Shopping Centers, Investment Program Association, Nareit®, and the National Association of REALTORS® joined a November, 2017   amicusbrief above, with The Roundtable.

In Wayfair, the Justices are expected to squarely resolve whether an antiquated legal doctrine known as the “physical presence” test should be overruled.  This test exempts on-line sellers from collecting sales and use taxes under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause unless they have an actual, physical retail outlet or other footprint in the state where the purchase is made – thus imposing sales tax collection burdens primarily on traditional brick-and-mortar” stores.

A coalition of real estate groups (including The Real Estate Roundtable) filed an amicus curiae brief with SCOTUS last November, urging the Justices to accept the Wayfair case to challenge pre-Internet decisions from 1991 and 1967 (Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298, and National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, 386 U.S. 753, respectively). .  (See Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 3, 2017.)  This pair of decades-old opinions prohibits states from imposing sales and use tax collection obligations on web-based, catalog, and other retailers lacking an in-state “physical presence.”

“The direct harm that the [physical presence] rule inflicts on brick-and-mortar retail stores in considerable,” the real estate groups wrote in their brief.  “Local businesses struggle and increasingly fail to compete against online retailers that can offer customers identical goods for what is in effect up to a 10 percent discount.”

The amicus brief explains the “cascading effects” that call for the Supreme Court to revisit Quill and Bellas Hess.  Many brick-and-mortar stores “are integral to the social fabric of their communities,” and losing them because Internet retailers have a competitive tax collection advantage “increases unemployment and creates a sense of dislocation among community residents.” 

The outdated “physical presence” rule also causes “lost revenue from sales, property and income taxes” which “threatens the ability of state and local governments to provide much-needed public services” to their communities, the brief maintains.  Research data from The National Conference of State Legislatures and International Council of Shopping Centers shows that nearly 26 billion dollars in state and local sales taxes from online sales went uncollected in 2015.  (NCSL and ICSC, March 2017)

The Supreme Court is likely to hear oral argument in April and render a decision by the end of June.

Now that the case moves to the merits phase, a number of advocacy groups are expected to filed a second round of briefs urging a more modern, national standard from SCOTUS to reflect the purchasing preferences and habits of consumers this century.  (See SCOTUSblog’s Wayfair page.)  Since the 1992 Quill opinion, technological advances are now available to address the complexity of administering an online sales tax.  Amazon, for example, collects and remits sales tax  for consumer transactions in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

With today’s cert grant, additional briefing on the Internet sales tax issue is expected throughout the winter and early spring.  The high Court is likely to hear oral argument in April and render a decision by the end of June, when it traditionally breaks for the summer.   

The International Council of Shopping Centers, Investment Program Association, Nareit®, and the National Association of REALTORS® joined last November’s amicus brief  with The Roundtable.