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Are there 60 votes in the Senate for online sales taxes?

Senate backers of Marketplace Fairness Act are looking to test support this week

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate is expected this week to take up a non-binding amendment to test support for online sales tax collections.

The plan is to attach the sales tax resolution to a broader FY 2012 Senate budget resolution. If the amendment can get 60 votes, it may act as a signal to Senate leadership to move ahead with a separate online sales tax collection bill.

A vote could possibly come on Thursday. Sixty votes are needed to cut off debate and move a bill forward.

The key online sales tax bill in the House and Senate is the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require online sellers with revenues of more than $1 million to collect sales taxes in states with sales taxes.

The act has 26 co-sponsors in the Senate, 19 Democrats, six Republicans and one independent. The bill's chief sponsors are Senators Michael Enzi (R-Wy.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

Under law, online retailers are now required to collect sales taxes in states where they have a physical presence. Customers are obligated to pay a use tax if they buy something from an out-of-state retailer, but most don't.

State lawmakers, upset over lost tax revenue, and brick and mortar retailers who believe they are at a competitive disadvantage, have complained about the online tax situation since the dawn of ecommerce.

Forcing online retailers to collect sales taxes also has many opponents.

The threat of a test vote Wednesday prompted two industry groups, TechAmerica and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, to urged the Senate to resist attaching the resolution to a budget.

"Senate sponsors would love to generate some momentum but they risk subjecting this bill to greater scrutiny, and they risk making it look like yet another tax grab by Washington," Steve DelBianco, the executive director of NetChoice, which also opposes online sales tax collection efforts.

An earlier effort in December to add a sales tax amendment failed.

Jason Brewer, vice president of communications and advocacy at the Retail Industry Leaders Association., which supports the Marketplace Fairness Act., said that if the resolution can garner 60 votes "it frees up the Senate leaders and the bill's sponsors to figure out how to best proceed."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected].

Read more about e-business in Computerworld's E-business Topic Center.


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