Tallahassee, Florida - As the Hillsborough County Commission moves ahead with millions of dollars in financial incentives to try to bring Amazon to the Tampa area, Florida TaxWatch is welcoming Amazon's plan to eventually start collecting Florida sales taxes.
Robert Weissert of TaxWatch says the proposal will help level the playing field between out-of-state online businesses like Amazon that don't charge sales taxes and Florida retailers that are required to charge the tax.
"Any player we can get in the system collecting the sales tax and leveling the playing field is a positive thing."
Amazon has been able to avoid collecting sales tax from Florida customers because it does not have a physical presence in the state.
Now it's proposing to build warehouse facilities here, which would create thousands of jobs, but also require the company to charge a Florida sales tax.
That would generate a lot of new cash for Florida, but it's unclear how the state might use that money.
Weissert hopes state lawmakers would cut other taxes that discourage businesses from locating or expanding here.
"It gives us a chance to look at things like the tangible personal property tax or the corporate income tax or even the overall sales tax rate that everybody pays. So those are really good opportunities. It's one way we could also help to level the playing field."
Many Republican state lawmakers have resisted efforts to start collecting online sales taxes because they consider it a tax increase.
Weissert contends that's just plain wrong.
"This is certainly and unequivocally not a tax increase. This is a tax that's legally owed already on every transaction that Floridians make where they have stuff shipped into Florida from remotely conducted sales, whether through Amazon or through other companies that sell into Florida from online businesses. It is not a tax increase because we already legally owe that tax."
Florida law does require residents to pay sales tax for Internet purchases but the state doesn't have a way to enforce the law. Very few people voluntarily send in their online sales taxes to the Florida Department of Revenue.
State Sen. Nancy Detert, who supported an unsuccessful bill last spring to start collecting online sales taxes, quipped that Floridians who actually tax themselves and send in their owed tax "are the people who are going to die and go right to heaven for submitting a sales tax that nobody checked on."
If you're interested in submitting the tax that no one checks on, you can do so by downloading a DR-15MO form from the Florida Department of Revenue or you can pay online.