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Michigan 'Remote Sales Tax' Plan Will be Unenforceable

05 December 1999

The U.S. state of Michigan has jumped the gun on the internet sales tax debate by announcing the introduction of a new 'remote sales tax' next April. Michigan's personal income tax forms for 1999 will ask taxpayers to estimate the value of e-commerce purchases they make during the year and pay a 6 percent use tax (also referred to as 'remote sales tax').

The announcement by Michigan has been roundly ridiculed in the US by supporters of the tax-free internet camp, mainly because it is considered to be premature and unenforceable. Once commentator even went so far as to say that remote sales tax will "sit out there like a stinking fish."

Despite the current moratorium on new internet taxes in the US, Michigan's 'remote sales tax' is not illegal as it was already on the Michigan books before the freeze but had no mechanism for enforcement.

However, critics of the tax argue that the only people likely to pay the remote sales tax will be the "weak and easily intimidated" who are almost certain to become tax audit targets.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of the Treasury said that they believe the tax will be enforceable but also conceded that they will need to provide a lot of leeway initially as most people will not have been aware that they should be keeping receipts for e-commerce transactions.

The President of the Freedom Foundation Jeffrey Eisenach says there is no way to enforce the remote sales tax fairly. "I think what most people have concluded... is the realization that a tax that can't be enforced equitably is a tax that is inherently unfair," Eisenach said. "Since there is no way it can inherently be enforced, you might as well give people a voluntary opportunity to pay taxes. I don't think they will get very much compliance." Eisenach's views have also been supported by Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce (ACEC) member and Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.


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