Editorial: Online sales tax should be a no-brainer

A last-minute push by the state’s Democratic lawmakers to pass another “Amazon tax” — this one exempt from the referendum process — deserves to pass with bipartisan support.

This being California, we won’t hold our breath.

Because the new tax bill was proposed as an urgency measure — thereby exempting it from referendum — passage requires a two-thirds majority vote in each house. That means a handful of Republicans would have to support it in these final days of the legislative session, but so far, that hasn’t happened.

Why, we wonder? This is not a new tax. That means Republican pledge-takers would not be breaking their no-new-taxes vow if they supported it.

This legislation simply requires Amazon and other out-of-state online retailers to collect the sales tax that California shoppers should already pay, but don’t.

As a result, California loses an estimated $200 million to $300 million per year in sales tax — money that could go to law enforcement, road improvements, child welfare and a number of other services.

This isn’t just about dollars and cents, however. As we’ve said before, it’s also about giving a fair shake to local businesses.

After all, why should out-of-state, online retailers have the advantage over brick-and-mortar merchants who pay a variety of fees and taxes; provide jobs for local residents; add to the vibrancy of our downtowns; and support community causes?

Consider: When is the last time you saw Amazon.com sponsor a youth soccer team or donate refreshments for a local nonprofit’s fundraiser?

Bottom line: Local merchants are the businesses that deserve a break, especially in today’s economy. Instead, bullies like Amazon are allowed to avoid collecting sales taxes, even as they use California’s highways and other infrastructure to get their goods to consumers. That’s galling.

California lawmakers should look out for California businesses — not protect the interests of out-of-state retailers who reap profits while contributing nothing to the well-being of our state or our communities.