Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wal-Mart and - Strange Bedfellows??

Rusty Little

Wal-Mart and probably don't see eye-to-eye on many things because they are in fierce competition in the retail marketplace (nor do any of the other big box retailers and the other large online sellers). 

But arguably, they are in the same boat with regard to many sales tax collection issues.  Beginning yesterday, there have been a lot of stories in the main stream media regarding Wal-Mart not collecting sales tax on certain online sales.  This article from the LA Times attempts to sum up the recent revelations regarding Wal-Mart's "failure to collect California sales tax" on sales by CSN Stores (based in Boston) that are made through Wal-Mart's website.

Sure, there is some degree of comic irony in the fact that Wal-Mart is one of the leaders in the fight to force to collect sales tax on its online sales.  Furthermore, it doesn't help the public's perception that CSN Stores has posted on its website (in broad daylight, no less) that "one of the best things about buying through CSN Stores is that we do not have to charge sales tax . . ."

However, the thing that the media frenzy on this subject will not indicate is whether Wal-Mart is legally required to collect sales tax on these particular sales.  It all depends on the facts (and many times, the facts seem to be unimportant in the mainstream media).

Wal-Mart is a great company, and they collect sales tax when they are legally required to do so. is also a great company, and they collect sales tax when they are legally required to do so.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Just because these companies dominate in their respective markets doesn't give the states carte blanche to force them to collect sales tax because it is easy for them to do so, or because the states think they are missing out on potential tax revenues.

Wal-Mart and could become strange bedfellows in an environment where states are attempting to cross legal boundaries just because they need budgetary relief from what the U.S. Constitution has limited them from doing.

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