The Florida Retail Federation is backing proposed legislation that would require online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes to the state, just like brick-and-mortar stores.
FRF says tax-free online purchases provide a built-in price advantage for online stores, and making them collect from consumers would “restore the free market” and “level the playing field” between physical and digital storefronts.
“Foreign companies are luring Florida consumers by advertising cheaper prices that don’t account for taxes owed,” said Scott Shalley, President and CEO of FRF. “This scheme is putting Florida retailers out of business and taking away jobs for Florida families.”
On Monday, the retail trade group took that argument to the people of Florida with the launch of a new website, titled “Fairness for Florida.”
According to the page, “there are more than 270,000 retailers in Florida, and these businesses provide more than 2.7 million jobs for Florida families.
“Florida retailers aim to provide quality goods and excellent service at affordable prices to consumers in the Sunshine State. What’s more, Florida retailers support local charities, and pay state and local taxes.
“Others, however, do not. Out-of-state businesses do not collect and remit sales taxes because the state of Florida is one of two states in the nation that has failed to modernize its laws.”
FRF also produced a video outlining the issue.
FRF has some influential allies in the policy fight. In late October, RPOF chair and state Sen. Joe Gruters said passing an online sales tax bill was his “top priority” for the 2020 Legislative Session.
“Florida retailers provide jobs for Florida families, support their local communities, and pay state and local taxes,” said Sen. Gruters. “We must ensure that our businesses are able to compete globally and are not hindered by outdated regulations here at home.”
Gruters has since filed a bill to enact the policy, SB 126. Joining him as co-sponsors are Republican Sens. Ed Hooper, George Gainer, Dennis Baxley, Keith Perry, Gayle Harrell, Ben Albritton as well as Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart.
The bill has already cleared the Gruters-chaired Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.
Newberry Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons is sponsoring the House companion, HB 159, alongside Republican Reps. Melony Bell, Heather Fitzenhagen, Sam Killebrew, Rene Plasencia, Anthony Sabatini and Charlie Stone as well as Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco.
“Florida retailers are competing with one hand tied behind their back,” said Rep. Clemons. “We must restore the free market.”
According to Gruters, the change could produce another $700 million in sales tax revenues for the state, which is otherwise expecting a downturn in tax collections.
Importantly, this would not be a new tax: current law requires consumers to fill out a form and send a check to the state whenever they buy something online, though few do so, and enforcement is virtually nonexistent.