- CNN commenters mostly dislike the idea of an Internet sales tax
- Senate passed a bill that lets governments collect on sales in their states
- Critics say plan would hurt small online retailers
- Commenter: "Politicians never saw a source of income they didn't want to tap"
Should the government keep its hands off online shopping? According to the massive response to our stories on a proposed Internet sales tax, many of you think so.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate approved the Marketplace Fairness Act. It would allow governments to collect taxes on sales that Internet retailers, from titans such as Amazon and eBay to independent app developers, make in their state.
The point, supporters say, is to put traditional brick-and-mortar retailers on equal footing with digital storefronts that, in many cases, haven't been required to add tax to their prices.
But in an age when many of us have gotten used to one-click, 24-hour shopping on our laptops, tablets and phones, not many of the readers of our story Monday explaining the bill seemed overly excited at the prospect.
"I will never set foot in another brick and mortar store again," wrote a commenter using the screen name Riynko (who was perhaps exaggerating to make a point). "Their whining just cost us all a lot of money. Let this be the nail in their coffin."
A lot of the objections reflected traditional political arguments. Conservative-minded commenters looked at the bill not as a bid for fairness but as government digging into our wallets once again.
"Its criminal how they tax every dollar you make several times over," wrote CNN commenter Diraphe. "They tax your earnings, tax your spending, tax your property, special taxes, tax your utilities, tax your gas. ... They even tax you when you die!"
Added reader CactusThorn: "Politicians never saw a source of income they didn't want to tap. Then they waste the money on useless projects and regulations."
But anti-tax arguments sometimes transcended the usual left-right battles. Some comments reflected the "keep your hands off our Internet" mindset that has grown among online users who fear the impact both government and big business could have on a free and open Web.
The personal philosophies of billions of Web users obviously run the gamut. But the Internet has always had a sort of Wild West feel to it, and some commenters argue that is why it's grown into the unprecedented force its become.
"Watching Congress debate the Marketplace Fairness Act, I'm reminded of the Aesop's fable where a man and his wife had a goose that laid golden eggs," commenter nutemanlll wrote. "Thinking there may be more value to what's inside the goose than the golden eggs it laid, they killed it, only to realize the value was the golden eggs."
On Twitter, Cynthia Schames said that's what she's worried about. Schames runs Abbey Post, an online marketplace where users buy and sell plus-sized fashions.
"Oh goody, more taxes!" was her immediate, sarcastic reaction to a post from the CNN Tech Twitter account. "Abbey Post is a 2-way marketplace. Individuals buy and sell. Only physical retailers and government wastrels want this new tax."
In fairness, the bill as written would only tax sales by online businesses that do more than $1 million in sales annually outside states where they have physical operations. That would, at least in theory, exempt digital mom-and-pop shops and the random Etsy crafter.
But corporations with tax attorneys on speed-dial have a way of negotiating such things, as one reader pointed out.
"All it will do is rearrange the Internet businesses," commenter 412ctruth wrote. "If an eBay business does more than 1 million in business they just have to divide their company into segments. Say it is women's clothing store, they just create a women's shoe store, a women's coat and jacket store, and a women's clothing store, all doing less than 1 million dollars each and no taxes."
IT pro and photographer Christopher Souser replied to us on Twitter: "It wont help small businesses, it will only help large retailers. Online and offline; choking out small online retailers."
Of course, even among engaged Web users, disdain for the plan wasn't unanimous. Some people said that with e-commerce as prominent as it's become, it's only fair that states should get a cut.
Others worried about a future in which Web-based sales destroy hometown operations.
"As a small business owner (and right-leaning individual) I applaud this tax," commenter imo wrote. "As a consumer it is not welcomed, but as a small business trying to compete with large corporations it absolutely levels the playing field."
Owning a company with stores in 16 states means having to collect sales taxes in all of them, while major Web players with operations in just one or two don't, the commenter wrote. "There are many taxes that I disagree with, but this is not one of them."
For it to become a reality, the bill must now clear the Republican-controlled House and be signed by President Barack Obama. It got overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but the House, much like the Internet, has been known to dance to its own tune on such matters.