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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Falling dominos

There's an inevitable grumbling over the announcement that Amazon will start charging Massachusetts sales tax next year. But don't count the Bay State's small business owners among them.

The decision to level the playing field, particularly for small, locally owned bookstores, is probably also just the first of several more barriers to fall that have given out-of-state online retailers an unfair advantage of local folks trying to make a living.

Being the moonbat liberal that I am, I did the vast bulk of my holiday shopping at Brookline Booksmith, a local treasure. I could have avoided the crowds and done my shopping there online, but under the quirk in Massachusetts law, I would have paid sales tax on my purchases, one way or another.

That's because as a local business, Booksmith has invested in "bricks and mortar," a physical presence that makes it part of the community. It also means it has a far smaller footprint than an national behemoth like Amazon.

Local competitors take it on the chin in at least three ways that online companies do not: they pay local property taxes; they pay for health insurance and other benefits for the people who they employ. And until next November, they alone will charge sales taxes on their customers' purchases to help the Commonwealth provide services to our neighbors.

No, I'm not angelic. I have done business with Amazon and other online retailers. But I've looked for products I can't find here: LL Bean and Eddie Bauer, to name two, have far more extensive catalogs than what they offer in local stores.

Neither Bean nor Bauer are mom-and-pop operations, yet they too have an advantage over locally based retailers who sell similar goods. The decision by Amazon to charge sales tax means the time is coming for Bean and other catalog operations too.

Amazon may or may not have agreed to establish a bigger physical presence in Massachusetts, right now they have an office in Cambridge and a technology firm in North Reading. Maybe there's a distribution center down the road that might employee dozens or maybe a hundred people offering us a chance to get our stuff the next day.

We'll probably also be used to higher taxes all around by the time next November comes around. It's the price we pay to live in a society that provides us with goods and services.

And now if we can only get our banks, oil and gas companies and Wall Street bazillionaires to pay their fair share.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bean and Bauer both have physical presence in MA, which means their online operations should collect sales tax.

December 12, 2012 9:41 AM  

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