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Think Tank Urges SCOTUS Ruling For S Dakota In Quill Sales Tax Case

by Mike Godfrey,, Washington
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ahead of the US Supreme Court hearing on South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. on April 17, which will discuss whether states may tax internet retailers that have no physical presence within their territory, the Tax Foundation has discussed solutions for taxing e-commerce in the United States.

Specifically, South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. will discuss the constitutionality of a South Dakota law requiring collection of the state's sales tax by internet vendors with at least 200 transactions or USD100,000 in sales to South Dakota residents. A ruling in favor of the state would lead to many other states following suit.

In November 2017, the Tax Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Court to take the case, and the Court agreed to do so on January 12, 2018.

The Tax Foundation pointed out that the US Constitution's Commerce Clause has been interpreted to forbid state taxation that excessively burdens or discriminates against interstate commerce.

South Dakota is seeking to reverse the Quill decision of 1992, which held that states cannot force sales tax collection by vendors who do not have personnel or property in the state (the "physical presence" standard). Respondents Wayfair, Inc., et al., seek to retain the Quill decision.

On March 5, 2018, the Tax Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, in support of neither party. Its brief argues that the South Dakota law is constitutional, but Quill need not be overturned.

The Tax Foundation says: "The physical presence standard from that case was adopted as a proxy for what truly matters, constitutionally: state taxes cannot burden interstate commerce, cannot discriminate against interstate commerce, and cannot tax more than their fair share of interstate commerce. Our brief cites dozens of past cases, as well as contemporaneous statements by the Founders, to support this reading of the Commerce Clause. In the areas of income and business taxes, physical presence has actually led to more extensive state taxation of interstate commerce, with taxes on businesses and business travelers with only transient or incidental personnel in the state. Various congressional proposals seek to pare back this assertion of state tax authority."

"Many current state enactments, including "click-through nexus" laws in 22 states (nexus based on referral links from in-state websites), "notice-and-reporting" laws in 10 states (reporting burdens on entities with no nexus), economic nexus laws in three states (disregarding any nexus limits), and proposals for "cookie taxes" (nexus based on placing website cookies on in-state computers) violate this standard. But the South Dakota law is constitutional because the state minimizes the burden of its sales tax collection to the extent practicable, by:

  • Adhering to interstate standards of sales tax administration;
  • Requiring uniformity between state and local sales tax bases;
  • Minimizing number of local sales tax rates, which in South Dakota must be either one or two percent;
  • Taxing virtually all final retail transactions under its sales and use tax, without arbitrary exemptions or confusing special tax rates;
  • Adopting a meaningful de minimis threshold likely to exclude interstate activity where state burdens exceed state benefits, and
  • Barring retroactive collection."

"In addition, the state does not discriminate against interstate commerce, subjecting out-of-state retailers to the same taxes paid by in-state retailers, and the statute's sales and use tax applies only to South Dakota's fair apportioned share of interstate commerce, purchases made by South Dakota residents not taxed by any other state."

"Already, a majority of states have disregarded constitutional limits on their sales tax powers. Absent Court or congressional action, this trend will continue, creating the scenario that the Commerce Clause sought to avoid: states subjecting interstate commerce to death by a thousand cuts. We hope the Court resolves this almost universal lack of clarity about the proper scope of state sales taxation of out-of-state entities, with meaningful limits of state taxation of interstate commerce."