TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Legislation aimed at forcing online retailers to start collecting sales taxes is making headway in the Florida Legislature. Its latest test came Thursday, when the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax advanced the bill on a 10-1 vote.
The proposal aims to force online retailers such as Amazon.com to collect the state's 6 percent sales tax. The sales tax extension would apply if the retailer has a warehouse in the Sunshine State or if Florida residents are direct customers to the website and gross receipts from the referrals exceed $10,000 in a 12-month period.
The Florida House is considering similar legislation, and supporters are hoping for a breakthrough in 2013 after being stymied for years.
They say the bill will help Florida merchants who are losing out to online retailers that don't collect sales taxes.
"I've seen people go to Macy's and take a picture of an item on their phone, and then find out through an app how they can get it cheaper somewhere else or buy it cheaper through the Internet,'' said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. "That's sharp for them, but we're losing a lot of our tax revenues.''
Sen. Nancy Detert, the bill's lead sponsor, said the measure is meant as an overdue update to Florida's tax code, which was written pre-Internet.
Detert, R-Venice, estimated that extending the sales tax to online purchases could generate $400 million annually in revenue for Florida.
But the goal isn't to raise additional revenue, she said. Instead, the Senate bill aims to return an equal amount to taxpayers through sales tax holidays and a cut in the communications service tax rate, she said.
"I am not thinking of this as any kind of tax increase,'' she said. "It's a tax modernization. It is something we should have been collecting and haven't.''
The offsets should satisfy those lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature "who worry about new taxes,'' Detert said.
"To me it's not a new tax,'' she said.
Detert said the plan under the Senate bill is for a rate cut in the communications service tax that would save consumers about $100 million. Florida's tax on communications services is the 14th highest nationally, she said.
The bill drew support from business groups during the Senate panel hearing Thursday.
Afterward, Detert said the only difference with the House appears to be on how to offset the sales tax extension to online purchases. The House version calls only for sales tax holidays, she said.
"We at least have a bill in position which could match up with something in the House,'' she said. "And this could become law this year.''
Floridians are supposed to pay taxes for online purchases, but there's no way to for the state to enforce the law unless the retailer has a physical presence in the state.
*Pictured above is Sen. Nancy Detert.