LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday took a step toward forcing some online retailers to collect the state's sales tax on purchases in hopes of leveling the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses that have to assess the tax.
Without debate, the House Tax Policy Committee took bipartisan 9-1 and 9-2 votes to send two bills to the full Republican-led House, where their fate is uncertain. A handful of Republicans and Democrats on the panel abstained from voting.
Retailers such as Wal-Mart must collect the state's 6 percent sales tax when selling goods over the Internet. But Internet-only retailers such as Amazon and Overstock do not have to collect it unless they have a physical presence in Michigan.
Some lawmakers see the legislation as a tax increase, while others say it is a federal issue.
House Speaker Jase Bolger declined to say if he supports the plan. His spokesman, Ari Adler, said Bolger believes it is a federal issue.
"But we are looking at it because, once again, the federal government isn't doing its job," Adler said. "The question for the speaker right now is whether the state should be addressing it and, if so, if this bill is the right way to do so."
There are disputes about whether Amazon already has such a presence in the state because one of its subsidiaries, an audiobook publisher, is based in Grand Haven. The measure in part would clarify that Amazon and other Internet companies working through affiliate websites in Michigan have to collect the sales tax.
The legislation is limited in scope because of the estimated $482 million in tax revenue from remote sales that will be owed in the next budget year — nearly 60 percent of it from e-commerce — the state could see less than $50 million if the measure is enacted.
Shoppers currently are required to pay unpaid taxes on online, catalog, mail- and telephone-order purchases when they file their state tax returns. But few taxpayers comply, paying less than $6 million this year.