Beware the word “fairness” when elected officials propose new laws. Be doubly wary of the word when it appears in the name of an act, as it does in the case of the recent second attempt to pass the “Marketplace Fairness Act” through the U.S. Congress, to allow states to collect sales taxes on Internet (“remote”) retail.
The first attempt, in 2013, made it through the Senate, but not the House. All four members of Rhode Island’s federal delegation jumped on the bandwagon ascosponsors, but of the four, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, may have done the most to give the game away.
In his related press release, Whitehouse emphasized that unfairness in retail pricing isn’t really an issue for Rhode Island, because consumers are supposed to pay the state’s 7 percent sales tax–rebranded as a “use tax”–no matter where they buy something. (Other states’ taxes, if collected, count toward the total.)
To the extent that the pricing difference is unfair, it’s because Whitehouse considers Rhode Islanders to be scofflaws who use online purchases as a means of skirting tax laws. That, obviously, is unfair to the government officials who would like to have more money to spend.
A series of related Rhode Island statutes reinforces Whitehouse’s emphasis on tax collections.