Supreme Court deals setback on sales taxes; Amazon reveals drone delivery plans

In an interview aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes," Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos outlined his latest plan for using drones to deliver packages in as little as 30 minutes. (Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)

Online retailer Amazon met with skepticism from legal experts and Supreme Court justices Monday on two very different aspects of the company’s vision for the technological future: sales taxes and delivery drones.

The prototype drones with eight propellers the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, discussed in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday would have to overcome major regulatory and technological obstacles before they are deployed, experts said. (Bezos owns The Washington Post). These obstacles include range, cargo capacity, and Federal Aviation Administration approval:

Autonomous operations raise a lot of safety questions for the FAA, especially in highly populated areas, [University of Nebraska Prof. Matt] Waite said: “You’re talking about eight spinning blades that you are now, by design, putting very near to people.” Proposing flying those drones automatically through cities or above crowded public events is a safety hazard that the FAA is not going to take lightly, said Waite, adding that “it’s all fun and games until little Sally loses a finger.”

Andrea Peterson

Waite suggested the agency might approve the drones to operate autonomously in seven to 10 years.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, rejected a petition that would have allowed Amazon and other retailers not to collect sales taxes in New York:

As is its custom, the court gave no explanation for turning down petitions from Amazon and Overstock.com to review a decision by New York’s highest court to uphold that state’s 2008 law requiring sales tax collections.

Seattle-based Amazon has no offices, distribution centers or workforce in New York. But the New York Court of Appeals said Amazon’s relationship with third-party affiliates in the state that receive commissions for sending Web traffic its way satisfied the “substantial nexus” necessary to force the company to collect taxes.

Robert Barnes

Amazon supports laws requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes, but argues that Congress should regulate the collection rather than the states.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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