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Senator David Vitter

As a state legislator in 1994, David Vitter voted for a new sales tax that an ad from a super PAC supporting his candidacy for governor now criticizes his opponent, fellow Republican Scott Angelle, for backing.

In ominous tones, using unflattering video, the commercial claims Angelle supports an Internet sales tax that “would cost you nearly $900” a year.

Angelle, a Public Service Commissioner from Breaux Bridge, supported the tax in the context of a congressional debate in Washington.

But representing Metairie in the Louisiana House 21 years ago, U.S. Sen. Vitter voted for creating a new tax that applies to Louisiana consumers.

It’s a sales tax on purchases from out-of-state vendors made through television shopping channels, radio pitches, catalogs, fliers, periodicals, telephones, computer databases, cable, optic, microwave and all manner of communications venues. It’s the basis of what is called “Louisiana’s Consumer Use Tax,” for which the state Department of Revenue prints the motto of “Online doesn’t mean tax-free” on forms and instructions.

Vitter’s campaign spokesman, Luke Bolar, said in an emailed statement: “I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t making any online purchases in 1994. David Vitter is opposed to taxing the Internet and has voted against the Internet tax at least three times in the Senate.”

Vitter chairs the U.S. Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee.

Unlike many of the tax rollbacks the Legislature approved this year, John Alario, who was House Speaker in 1994 and is now Senate President, ruled that a two-thirds majority would be needed because it would levy a new tax.

House Bill 21 passed the lower chamber May 17, 1994, on a 75-22 vote, with Vitter voting with the majority. Meanwhile, several Louisiana conservative stalwarts, such as Peppi Bruneau, of New Orleans, and Woody Jenkins, of Baton Rouge, were among the representatives who voted against the measure.

HB21 eventually was signed by Gov. Edwin W. Edwards and became Section 302(K) in the state’s tax law.

The Fund for Louisiana’s Future purchased television airtime in markets around the state, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission, and it sponsored the commercial criticizing Angelle’s position.

According to its most recent financial disclosure, the Fund for Louisiana’s Future had about $4.3 million in the bank. Vitter’s Senate campaign donated $890,000 of those dollars, says the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., research group that tracks political contributions.

The spot sources a July 31 speech Angelle gave as part of a gubernatorial candidate forum sponsored by the Louisiana Municipal Association, a Baton Rouge-based advocacy group whose members are the mayors and councilmen in local governments.

Angelle said he does favor an Internet sales tax as is said in the commercial. However, the statement was made in the context of the congressional debate over the Market Fairness Act of 2015.

The proposal would give states the option to require that out-of-state businesses, such as those selling online or through catalogs, collect and use taxes already owed under state law — the same way local businesses do. Vitter voted against final passage of the Market Fairness Act of 2013, and in two other votes.

“I’m very sympathetic to the fairness argument of retail store owners,” Vitter said at the time of the 2013 vote, according to his campaign. “But overall, this will be an effective tax increase on Louisiana and put a big burden on many smaller businesses that would have to deal with thousands of different taxing jurisdictions around the country with their own sales tax rates, with some rates changing every year.”

At the speech in Lafayette, Angelle told local government officials:

“When it comes to the Internet, you know, I think it is time for America to pass the Market Fairness Act. How can it be fair to the local businessman or businesswoman that you recruited and you said, ‘Come be part of our Main Street? And when you are a part of our Main Street, go to the bank and borrow money. Take the risk.’

“And when you take the risk, build the building and pay property taxes and hire people and make all those risks. And then when the Boy Scouts need a dollar, we come see you. When the Girl Scouts need a dollar, we come see you. When we want to build another church, we come see you.

“But, yet, that retailer has to collect a sales tax that when you buy that same item from somewhere in Chicago or New York or California, you don’t have to pay it. That’s not fair. That’s not right for our local business owners. That’s not right for our local communities that have seen a total erosion of their ability to collect sales taxes.

“It’s time for America to pass the Market Fairness Act today. No question about it. When you think of opportunities and the challenges that we have for local government, that’s a good place for us to start and get some things done.”

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.