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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Level playing fields

Oh, yes, tax me more, do it now, hit me harder!

A statewide poll of registered Indiana voters found that 69 percent feel it is unfair for local retailers that online retailers collect no sales tax. The survey was conducted by target point consulting for Indiana Merchants for Tax Fairness.

I think the results here are pretty suspect, since the poll was conducted on behalf of brick-and-mortar merchants increasingly challenged by the online competition. Polls taken by those with a vested interest are subject to "getting what they want to hear" design problems.

But even if it's entirely correct, the poll shouldn't be taken as proof that Hoosiers are eager to pay more taxes. They may think it's "unfair" that online retailers don't have to be tax collectors the way local retailers do, but they're not going to rush to the store down the street in gratitude when they suddenly get automatically charged sales tax on all their online purchases.

Any cost added to goods and services will reduce sales -- that's a simple fact of life. Money taken out of the spending pool will have a depressive economic effect.

One argument for ending the "Amazon loophole" that I haven't heard too often is that it turns ordinary citizens into scofflaws. Even if the online retailer doesn't include sales tax in the selling price, we're still supposed to declare it and fork the money over to the government, but hardly anybody does. Whether you like a particular law or policy or not, there should be a mechanism to ensure uniform compliance. A "level playing field" for taxpayers is more important than the one for retailers.