What Does This New Supreme Court Ruling On Internet Sales Taxes Do For Louisiana’s Budget Issues?

The answer is that we don’t know, but what we do know is the supposed $507 million budget deficit that has to be fixed with higher taxes isn’t an accurate number anymore.

In case you’re not up on the latest developments, here’s what came down today

A closely divided Supreme Court upended the nation’s Internet marketplace Thursday, ruling that states can collect sales taxes from most online retailers.

The decision, which overturns an earlier Supreme Court precedent, will boost state revenues at the expense of consumers and sellers who have avoided sales taxes in the past.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 decision, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, saying the decision should be left to Congress, and was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Faced with a South Dakota law that exempted online retailers with less than $100,000 in annual sales or 200 annual transactions in the state, the justices nevertheless opened the door to states that may want to collect sales taxes from smaller sellers. Kennedy said Congress could step in to set limits.

“If some small businesses with only de minimus contacts seek relief from collection systems thought to be a burden, those entities may still do so under other theories,” Kennedy said. But the potential for problems, he said, “cannot justify retaining this artificial, anachronistic rule that deprives states of vast revenues from major businesses.”

This issue came up in the second special session of this year in Louisiana – the one which ended in Alan Seabaugh’s filibuster of a half-billion dollar tax increase – but wasn’t resolved. It wasn’t resolved because the bill which would have supposedly defined a remote seller for the purposes of internet sales taxes, HB 12 by Rep. Walt Leger, had passed in the House and was brought over to the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee where it was hollowed out and replaced with a clone of the Republican compromise bill on sales taxes that had been larded up with additional revenue.

And it was that bill Seabaugh was filibustering as time ran out on the session.

But a different bill doing the same thing Leger’s bill was written to do, this one by Rep. Franklin Foil, did pass. And Louisiana would, we understand, be in a prime position to reap major benefits from this Supreme Court case. A study by the retail industry research group Civic Economics released in 2016 found that Amazon alone would be kicking in $75 million in extra tax revenue to the state of Louisiana.

But there was this from the fiscal note on Leger’s bill as originally written…

Current law imposes a state tax of 5% and a local tax of 4% on remote dealers, and distributes the local tax to local taxing authorities based on parish population. LDR reports that dealers currently meeting and complying with this criteria typically remit approximately $1 million per quarter.

Proposed law, contingent on a favorable United States Supreme Court ruling, would expand the population of dealers qualifying as remote dealers. To the extent that dealers meet the expanded definition and comply with the requirements to collect and remit the tax, state and local sales tax revenues will increase, along with a 1% share retained by the Commission. Any particular estimate of the magnitude and timing of possible additional collections is speculative.

So the Legislative Fiscal Office has no idea.

At the Capitol they’re saying this could be an $800 million boon to the state’s coffers. If that’s even remotely true at least one of the sales tax bills being debated on the House floor today ought to be amended into a tax cut and passed to the Senate.

What’s certainly true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that none of those bills should pass today until it’s known what the effect of the internet sales tax decision will be on Louisiana’s state government revenues. That shouldn’t even be arguable at this point.

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