01 July 2011

My letter as a Californian to Amazon.com

Corporate Relations
1200 12th Ave., Ste. 1200
Seattle, WA    98144 

re:   Sales Tax Issue

To whom it may concern:

Allow me to begin this letter by pointing out that I am a very good customer of Amazon.com (Amazon Prime), purchasing several hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise, at a minimum, each year. I have become accustomed, and appreciative, of the efficiency and convenience Amazon offers its customers. One of the beguiling aspects of online purchasing for many folks has always been that it was a great deal to be able to avoid sales taxes.

I have, however, recently come to the realization that this is profoundly mistaken. It is human nature not to voluntarily pay taxes; taxes are a price of civilization, not a voluntary donation. But that does not make it legitimate to participate in schemes which deprive states of a large share of commercial revenues which under former circumstances would have been collectible as a matter of course.

As everyone knows, many states in the United States, in the wake of the Wall-Street caused financial collapse and Depression (calling it what it is), are in desperate financial condition. My state of California is in one of the worst situations in the entire nation.

As you of course know, our state has decided to try to force the issue of collection of sales taxes on online purchases from Amazon and other online retailers which have significant business connections to the state. In an attempt to circumvent this (despite having falsely claimed in the past that the sales tax issue was not a major factor in their marketing strategy), Amazon has said it will sever ties to various affiliated agents and entities in order to maintain what, in my view, is tantamount to a legal fiction that they do not do business in California and therefore cannot be forced to pay sales taxes.

The fact is that the era when online businesses needed special considerations, to build what were initially fragile and unprofitable business systems, are long over. Amazon has been instrumental in the demise of brick and mortar independent booksellers, and more recently, Borders. That’s just a fact; for good or ill. But the rationale for a major tax break, if it once existed, has ceased to exist, and the needs of society for effective commercial revenue streams in order to fund the essential services provided by states must take precedence.

For this reason, I urge you, as a good corporate citizen, to change your policy, and to accept the right of the states to impose sales taxes on online purchases rather than pursuing a policy that amounts to evasion of the rightful burden of sharing in the cost of government. After all, the taxes are actually levied upon the customers in the states where they reside, and it is only a question of whether you, as a retailer, are required to collect those taxes.

By now, the convenience and other efficiencies of online commerce have established themselves. Of course, since Amazon is able, through arguably legal tax evasion, to offer a substantial price advantage over in-state sources (of whichever respective state may be at issue), there would be some impact on the vaunted “bottom line.” But this is an issue of fundamental fair dealing and the duty of all citizens to pay the fair share of the cost of maintaining the essential services of our states. All businesses are entitled to a level playing field, but that translates to the equally valid principle that no businesses are entitled to structural advantages based on arbitrary considerations which give them an unfair advantage. When online retailing was a novelty and a tiny fraction of commerce, it didn’t matter so much and no one made too much of an issue of it. But that time has past.

I believe that it ultimately comes down to a moral issue. We must all pay (and online retailers must refrain from enabling customers not to pay) our fair share, or we are in default of our moral and legal obligations as honest citizens. While individuals cannot be expected to go out of their way to voluntarily pay taxes, corporate citizens have an obligation to do business ethically and in a manner that is consistent with good corporate citizenship. The current tax policies of Amazon.com, in my view, completely fail this test and must be changed.  

I request the favor of a reply. Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gyromantic Informicon. Comments are not moderated. If you encounter a problem, please go to home page and follow directions to send me an e-mail.