Well-funded battle axes will swing at the State Capitol as Democratic and Republican legislators wage war over tort reform when the Louisiana Legislature convenes a week from Monday.
But like any good HBO series, the legislative session will have different storylines so the drama won’t seem like one long scene of carnage.
Legislators, for instance, will divert themselves on efforts to make the bright orange Gulf Fritillary the state’s official butterfly. Two bills have been filed concerning agraulis vanillae, a species in which females are distinctively larger and more powerful than males.
And then there’s a bill to require small businesses who sell their goods through the large internet websites like Amazon, Walmart, Etsy, and eBay, to start paying sales taxes. That’s going to be a first step toward starting the long-neglected overhaul of the state financial system made rickety by years of passing the least objectionable tax possible then exempting special interests from having to pay, said state Sen. Bret Allain II, the Franklin Republican who is taking over the Senate Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees taxes and state construction projects.
He took time out of last month’s Washington Mardi Gras festivities to meet with D.C.-based tax analysts who invariably criticize the Rube Goldberg way Louisiana raises revenues for services.
“We’re going be aggressive and try to get some tax reform,” Allain said in an interview last week. He hopes to roll out legislation that would put more order into the way the state collects money.
The first bill filed would repair legal definitions to require the big internet retailers of the world to start collecting taxes on the goods they sell on behalf of others.
What makes his “marketplace facilitator” measure low-hanging fruit is a January Louisiana Supreme Court decision overturning Jefferson Parish's use of a 30-year-old legal definition to make Walmart pay $1.4 million in taxes from the sales of small retailers included on its website.
“Relative to the sales for third party retailers made through the Walmart.com’s online marketplace, Walmart.com occupies a position similar to that of an auctioneer, requiring like treatment under the tax laws,” wrote Justice John L. Wiemer, one of Allain’s constituents and friends, in the court’s 4-3 decision. Weimer added that there is a “need for legislation to address the obligation of an online marketplace facilitator to collect sales tax on sales of third-party retailers conducted through its online marketplace.”
In a decision long awaited around the nation, a split Louisiana Supreme Court Wednesday overruled Jefferson Parish, finding that the big onlin…
This all started two years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair expanded the definitions of interstate commerce to allow states to collect sales taxes on purchases its residents made over the internet with companies that have no physical presence in the state. Louisiana and other states quickly reformed their laws to follow the suggestions of the high court’s majority. Only remote sellers with more than $100,000 of in-state sales or 200 in-state transactions were required to collect and remit sales taxes.
This excluded small entrepreneurs from having to fill out forms, submit to audits, collect sales taxes and distribute the proceeds to the proper local jurisdictions, in order to continue peddling their pralines made from grandma’s recipe or whatever.
A lot of small-businesses contracted with internet marketplace facilitators to include those pralines along with the stuff the big corporations sold online.
Amazon reports that about 60% of its total sales in 2019 — roughly $200 billion — were from the 3 million active third-party sellers associated with the largest marketplace facilitator.
Thirty-three states recently passed legislation — 34 if the bill passed by the Mississippi House on Mardi Gras finishes the legislative process — to pick up the small businesses that pay one of the mega-sites to make their goods available for sale over the internet.
Allain spoke with Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson and looked at other states’ legislation in drafting SB138.
“We thought it was important that it mirrored other states,” Robinson said in an interview last week.
Louisiana’s online sales tax collections from the bigger outfits began last year.
During the last three months of 2019, about $13 million in sales taxes from remote sellers were added to the treasury.
Historically, the amount was about $11 million for the entire year, she said. (The state had collected for online sales from retailers operating in Louisiana and from customers who were supposed to voluntarily pay sales taxes when the online retailer didn't collect them.)
Collection numbers should go up further when the state rolls out its software on July 1, which will ease the collection and distribution of the 4.45% state sales tax plus whatever is charged by the local jurisdiction where the item is sent.
Robinson said she doesn’t know how much will be added should the legislation to include marketplace facilitators become law, but it could be significant given the estimates.