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Area businesswoman pushes for online sales tax

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As with many small businesses, customers come into Christine Bender's auto accessories stores and ask for advice.

"People approach my husband or my son, asking them for their opinion about what to get. They look at it in our stores. Then they purchase it on Amazon or eBay," Bender said. "That has had a drastic impact on our business."

Bender owns Belpre Motor Sales in Belpre, Ohio, which has branch stores in Parkersburg and Williamstown, W.Va.

She was one of several small-business owners on a conference call Thursday about the importance of a bill that would require businesses selling goods on the Internet to charge the same sales tax as local businesses.

The call was held by the Marketplace Fairness Coalition, a national group of small-business owners across the country, which backs the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bipartisan bill reintroduced in Congress last week.

"In order for all of us to compete fairly, Congress needs to pass this act," Bender said. "It is impossible for us to succeed when online retailers are not charged sales taxes.

"We pay taxes on every product we buy. It is already difficult enough for small businesses to survive in this economy, let alone when we have to compete with businesses that pay no sales taxes."

Bender said her businesses support local community groups such as Relay for Life, a group that helps cancer victims, as well as Little League baseball teams and local high schools.

"We contribute to them. These online website retailers don't have that same kind of relationship with their communities," she said. "We are not asking for a new tax. We are asking for every retailer to be on the same set of rules."

Kip Eideberg, a spokesman for the Marketplace Fairness Coalition, said his organization is working with "small-business owners about the importance of creating a level playing field."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is a longtime proponent of having online retailers charge sales tax. In a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last August on the previous version of the Marketplace Fairness Act, Rockefeller said the bill was "an issue of fairness and crucial to states' financial health."

Other business owners on Thursday's conference call included Jim Rosenheim, owner of Tiny Jewel Box, an 82-year-old family business in Washington, D.C., that employs 30 people; Richard Rosen, owner of the 103-year-old Rosen's Department Store in Bucksport, Maine; and Gary Ginn, owner of printing company Ginn Solutions in Columbia, S.C.

"We are only asking for a level playing field. We are not asking for a new tax," Rosenheim said. "About $23 billion in revenues goes uncollected by states annually. Make passage of this legislation a priority."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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