Longtime online sales tax advocate hopeful about House chances
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After devoting more than a decade advocating for Internet sales taxes, former state delegate John Doyle made a point of being in the U.S. Senate chambers for the 69-27 passage vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act.
"I was in the Senate gallery Monday night for the vote," said Doyle, a Jefferson County Democrat who did not seek re-election in 2012 after serving 11 terms in the House. "I'm very happy -- I pushed for it for about 10 years, until I left the Legislature about six months ago."
Doyle has long advocated for Internet sales taxes, not only as a way to collect lost state revenue, but as a matter of fairness to brick-and-mortar retailers around the state.
"We're losing probably about $100 million a year of sales taxes that's going uncollected," he said.
The bill passed by the Senate exempts sellers doing $1 million or less of Internet sales annually, which Doyle said reduces the amount of sales taxes West Virginia could expect to collect to about $60 million a year.
Internet auction giant eBay wants to increase that exemption to $10 million, which Doyle said would be a major blow to state sales tax collections.
"What we're hoping is, the margin of victory we got in the Senate, 69 to 20, will help us withstand any further attempts in the House to weaken it," he said of the legislation.
"It wasn't just Democrat-Republican bipartisanship," Doyle said of the Senate vote. "It was liberal-conservative bipartisanship."
Doyle said he is confident the bill will pass the House of Representatives, with the only questions being when, and in what form.
"We've got the votes in the House," he said.
Spokespeople for all three of West Virginia's members in the U.S. House -- Republicans Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley and Democrat Nick Rahall -- said their bosses have not decided how they'll vote on the bill.
Doyle hopes a passage vote in the House will take place by this summer.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., voted for the bill. Rockefeller, a longtime supporter of the legislation, said the bill "is an opportunity to help our local businesses across West Virginia and the country. Our small businesses are the lifeline of our communities - they employ local workers, they boost local economies, and West Virginians are proud to support them."
Doyle said chances for passage didn't look good as recently as a year ago, prior to Internet retailer Amazon throwing its support toward the bill
"This time last year, most of us believed there was no way we'd ever get this bill through as a stand-alone bill," he said. "We thought it would have to be amended into a larger bill."
Doyle, who was president of the national Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board in 2008 to 2009, said many changes have occurred since he first started promoting the idea of Internet sales taxes as early as 2001.
At that time, the big stumbling block was trying to come up with a standardized sales tax system that could be applied nationwide, since there was no way national retailers could account for the hundreds of different tax rates for various states, municipalities, and other jurisdictions.
Since then, Doyle said, computer software has advanced to the point where sales taxes on Internet purchases can be automatically tallied the moment a buyer enters his or her zip code on the purchase form.
Doyle said watching the passage vote in the U.S. Senate was gratifying.
"It was not just that it was on this issue, but to see that the Senate could, in fact, pass something in a bipartisan way," he said.
Staff writer Paul J. Nyden contributed to this report. Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.