South Dakota e-commerce sale tax fight reaches US Supreme Court

Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday

Big retailers like Amazon and Walmart collect sales tax on all online sales in the 45 states with a statewide sales tax. But other online sellers, from 1-800 Contacts to home goods site Wayfair, can often sidestep charging the tax.

Initially meant to regulate catalog-based sellers, the ruling has been challenged again and again by states seeking to claim their fair shake of online sales.

Times and technology have changed. Something brick-and-mortar have argued will level the playing field.

The counter argument is that it is very hard for retailers to maintain sales tax accounts in all states they ship to.

"South Dakota's choice to forego its remedy for back taxes in the event that the Court were to overrule [existing law] will not limit the retroactive application of such a ruling with respect to other state and local jurisdictions", said Wayfair's attorneys. The National Retail Federation, which supports the state, has a membership list that includes Walmart Inc and Target Corp, as well as Amazon.

Additionally, independent businesses on websites like Etsy and Ebay would be included in a rewritten sales tax law, as well as third party merchants that operate in Amazon's global marketplace, which totaled almost two-thirds of the company's gross merchandise volume at $313.4 billion.

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Many small retailers depend on online sales.

"That rule doesn't make sense anymore in today's world of e-commerce", said Deborah White, general counsel of the Retail Litigation Center, told Bloomberg.

"Online retailers are omnipresent today - on consumers" smart phones, laptops, tablets, and computers - in a way that was inconceivable in 1967 or 199", she continued.

Still, the change in precedent could put a burden on small- and medium-size online retailers who will have to navigate up to 16,000 different taxing units, according to Wayfair, which wants the current rule should stay in place.

Those opposed to a re-write of the law warn that the cost to small businesses could be too much to bear.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in June. South Dakota projects its revenue losses because of online sales that do not collect state taxes at around $50 million annually, while its opponents in the case estimate it as less than half that figure.

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