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Level the playing field for small business -- pass the Marketplace Fairness Act

Some of us met our spouses in a bookstore; others reconciled with a loved one thanks to that greeting card they bought at the gift shop on Main Street; and some began life-long vocations picking up that first instrument in the neighborhood music shop.  

Small businesses don’t just sell us stuff, they touch our lives. And too often we take them for granted. This has never more true than in the Internet era—which is why passing the Marketplace Fairness Act is so very important.   

If you’re not familiar with it, the Marketplace Fairness Act would require online-only retailers like eBay or Overstock.com to collect sales tax at the point of sale—just as traditional, brick-and-mortar stores have always done.  

Continuing to allow government to essentially pick winners and losers based solely on tax enforcement is the antithesis of free market economics and conservative principles.

This wouldn’t create a new tax; it would merely close a loophole that has prevented states from enforcing their existing sales tax laws.   

More importantly, it would establish a level playing field, which is critical to a free marketplace.

Prominent conservative economist Art Laffer has explained how the current unequal tax treatment distorts market forces.  

“Exempting Internet purchases from the sales tax naturally encourages consumers to buy goods over the Web,” Laffer recently wrote. “Worse, the exemption incentivizes consumers to use in-state retailers as a showroom before they do so. This increases in-state retailers' overall costs and reduces their overall productivity.”

Other conservatives have noted how enforcing sales taxes that are legally owed is a pro-growth strategy.   

It’s been suggested that the recovered revenue can be used to cut other taxes, or close budget gaps without new tax hikes.  

Regardless, continuing to allow government to essentially pick the winners and losers based solely on tax enforcement is the antithesis of free market economics and conservative principles, which is why more and more conservative leaders are backing the Marketplace Fairness Act.

Still, some skeptics claim the law isn’t practical.  But it was written specifically to make equal tax enforcement more efficient and feasible, not more complicated.   For example, remote sellers will be provided with free software to make collecting and remitting taxes from different jurisdictions a simple matter.  

In addition, the law provides protections to prevent out-of-state sellers who use the software from being audited.  They are far less likely to be audited under the Marketplace Fairness Act than brick-and-mortar retailers are now, as certified software providers will be primarily responsible for sales tax compliance.  

And what about those small businesses that depend on online sales?  There is an exemption for businesses with under $1 million in online sales.  Don’t let anyone say otherwise: This legislation is devoted to the small-business owner through and through.  

So this National Small Business Week, when you visit the local sporting goods store to pick up some more golf balls or buy a shirt from the corner fashion boutique, be sure to thank the proprietor for the risk taking, financial commitment, long hours, and emotional fortitude necessary to run a successful business that makes your life, your community—and the lives of his or her employees—better.   

Tell them you think they deserve to compete on a level playing field, so you support the Marketplace Fairness Act; the sentiment won’t go unnoticed.  Better yet—tell your Congressman.

Hector Barreto, served as Small Business Administration Administrator under President George W. Bush. He is the author of “The Engine of America,” which provides motivation and inspiration through the stories and ideas of business leaders across the nation.