GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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September 23, 2012

Groups renew push for online sales tax 'fairness'

BOSTON — Frustrated with the pace on Beacon Hill, eight Massachusetts mayors have written to Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday urging his administration to “move aggressively” to reach a deal requiring the online retailer Amazon to begin collecting sales taxes before the Christmas shopping season begins.

The mayors, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, called small businesses the “lifeblood” of their communities, and argued that forcing Amazon to collect the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax would put them on an equal footing with stores that routinely collect taxes at the point of purchase.

“They provide our citizens with full and part-time jobs, are the core of the commercial tax base, and form the vibrant center of our community downtowns,” the mayors wrote.

Earlier this year, Amazon purchased a robotics company in North Reading and opened a research office in Kendall Square in Cambridge, establishing the “brick and mortar” nexus that local officials say should give the state the authority to force the company to collect the taxes from online shoppers.

More than a dozen states across the country, including many led by Republican governors, have reached deals with Amazon over tax collections, including Nevada and New Jersey. Amazon began collecting sales taxes in Texas on July 1, and this month started collecting taxes in California and Pennsylvania.

But according to the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, Massachusetts has lost out on $600 million in sales tax collections from e-commerce since 2007, including $132 million in 2012 and $116.8 in 2011. The Main Street fairness coalition — a group of retailers, local elected officials, labor unions and trade associations — estimates that by forcing Amazon to collect and remit sales taxes on purchases made by Massachusetts customers, the state could realize between $25 million and $45 million in additional annual tax revenue.

The issue of drawing sales taxes from online retailers was also spotlighted on Cape Ann last October, through a two-part national series showcased in the Times and produced by the CNHI News Service and the Times’ parent company, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

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