Hundreds of Booksellers Speak Out on Tax Fairness -- Still Time to Sign On to Letter to Governors

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Hundreds of booksellers nationwide have signed on to an ABA letter calling on U.S. governors in the 45 states that collect sales tax to enforce existing tax regulations by making sure that retailers with a physical presence in their states collect sales tax on online sales. Close to 300 booksellers have already responded to an e-mail last week from ABA COO Oren Teicher about the communications effort. Teicher's e-mail explained that ABA was planning to again send the December 19 letter to the governors and other appropriate state authorities -- but this time including the signatures of independent booksellers in their respective states.

Caren Lobo of Sarasota News & Books is one ABA member who signed the letter. She noted that, in addition to adding their signatures, booksellers also could send the letter to their local media. "Public and media pressure may have as much effect on governors and legislators as a direct letter," she said.

ABA is looking to add the signatures of as many ABA member stores in these states as possible and is hoping to send the letters within the next few weeks. The deadline for signatures is January 20.

Signing the letter is extremely easy -- just reply to Teicher's e-mail and ABA will do the rest. Or, you can e-mail Kristen Gilligan at with the following information:

Store name:
Owner (or contact):

Booksellers can also provide the local press with an op-ed piece that ABA has prepared, which is available by clicking here. The piece explains why it's important for state governmental leaders to take steps to ensure that there is a level playing field for all retailers selling online.

The collection of online sales tax is becoming a growing national issue as state officials are beginning to take steps to close massive budget deficits, steps that potentially will affect such key services as police, fire fighting, and education. (For a related article, click here.) ABA, regional booksellers associations, and booksellers and other retailers nationwide have long contended that when a state does not enforce existing sales tax regulations uniformly, state officials are allowing some national chains with a physical presence in these states to avoid collecting sales tax for online sales.

One state suffering a tax revenue crisis is Washington, where Bryan Pearce, CEO of University Book Store Inc., an ABA member in Seattle, Washington, has been fighting for sales tax e-fairness since 1998. It was then that he first wrote the Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR) regarding the fact that a national chain bookstore was not collecting sales tax on online sales. Since then, he's had numerous correspondences with DOR (as well as face-to-face meetings in 2000), the last being in October 2002.

While Pearce is confident that "we had a solid case," due to privacy issues, he doesn't know the outcome of his meetings and correspondence with DOR, he explained. "The state cannot confirm what action they're going to take, because they cannot disclose any actions it takes against a taxpayer," he said. "I think, quite honestly, it was clear that this was an emerging issue. And they made it clear that they'd look into it."

Pearce signed ABA's letter and said he is happy the association is urging governors to enforce their sales tax regulations. "This is not an issue of independents crying -- it's about leveling the playing field."

Seattle's sales tax is 8.8 percent, so when a large chain competitor does not charge sales tax online, "we're at a 8.8 percent disadvantage right off the bat," he explained. "We're 103 years old and have been able to compete, but it's tough to overcome that [disadvantage], no matter how good a retailer you are."