Lawmakers explain legality of internet sales tax

Updated: Mar. 10, 2017 at 9:54 PM CST
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MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - The state House of Representatives is trying to revive a bill that would allow Mississippi to collect state sales tax on internet purchases, but some Pine Belt lawmakers say it is unconstitutional.

"Lets start with the reality. The reality is it's an uncollected tax," Rep. Larry Byrd (R-Petal) said. "I'm not opposed to the internet sales tax, and I think that our economy is not growing and our revenue is certainly not growing, and I think a good portion of that can be attributed to people shopping online."

However, Byrd and the Mississippi Senate said regardless if someone is for or against the tax, there is not a clear, legal way to collect it right now.

"We have not taken a policy position on whether we should or should not collect an internet sales tax because we first believe you have to reach the issue of 'can you?' Before we even really have a meaningful conversation of 'should you?'" said Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall and chair of the Senate Finance committee. "And right now, under the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, you cannot."

Fillingane said some argue the state should pass a law and let its constitutionality be decided by the courts, but with several other states already in that process, he thinks taxpayer dollars could be better spent elsewhere.

"We think in the senate, that would be a foolish thing to do at this point," he said. "It would cost taxpayers dollars in legal fees fighting a court case that's already in process that other taxpayers in other states are paying for, and it wouldn't immediately lead to any additional collection of internet sales tax."

Fillingane said Mississippi can collect sales tax from Amazon because the company volunteered to do so, and so far, that has not been challenged in court. Fillingane said the state has asked the 34 other online retailers doing the most business in Mississippi to do the same.

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