Durbin Pushing for ‘National Standard’ on Internet Sales Tax Collections

As state government officials here wrestle with requiring Amazon.com to collect sales taxes from Tennessee consumers on their Internet purchases, one of the country’s top congressional Democrats told reporters in Nashville Monday he’s pushing for a national cure.

But he’s anything but certain how long it will take to pass his “Main Street Fairness Act.”

“(Congressman Jim Cooper) and I would be loath to suggest we do anything quickly in Washington,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader in the Senate. “But I think it is within the realm of possibility if we get the right bill and vehicle moving.”

Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to Washington officials to settle the ongoing disputes between states and online retailers like Amazon to standardize the collection of sales taxes. A month prior to his inauguration, then Gov. Phil Bredesen cut a deal with Amazon allowing it to open up distribution centers around the state without having to collect the taxes.

Although Haslam agreed, he says his administration is in the process of negotiating a long-term solution that would honor the former governor’s agreement while still opening up the possibility that the state can eventually collect sales taxes from the Internet retail giant. So far, details of those talks have been kept secret.

“You won’t be surprised to know that most Americans don’t pay the state or local sales tax on their Internet purchases,” said Durbin, who held a press conference with Cooper at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. “If it looks like you’re somehow imposing a new tax, you can imagine what happens in Washington. There will be groups that are marching in the streets against it.”

He said his plan would create a national standard to require large Internet retailers to collect state and local sales taxes and exempt small Internet sellers. Durbin says Amazon supports his proposal.

“This is not a new tax,” said Cooper. “This is a collection of an existing tax and everybody should be for that.”