Henry J. Aaron, who proposes collecting sales taxes on Internet sales ["The Internet Tax Dodge," op-ed, Dec. 3], should consider three points:
* While it is unclear whether Internet sales will cannibalize storefront sales, it is possible that retail sales levels will rise overall. If they do, then other taxes will be generated that may compensate for the losses Mr. Aaron thinks will occur because of e-transactions.
* States generally have not required mail-order retailers to collect sales taxes because of the difficulties involved in collecting the information. Mr. Aaron advocates that e-retailers be required to install software that would give states the ability to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases. Because e-retailers use the Internet, this is feasible, but it is also discriminatory because taxes on mail-order sales still would not be collected; Internet sales therefore could be harmed.
* Such a system would represent another invasion of privacy by government. When I buy something in a storefront I am not required to provide any information other than payment. This is not true of the Internet, where it is easy to track purchases.
The writer has a small Internet site.
Henry Aaron's piece did not factor in the problems associated with buying items via the Net--i.e.:
Not everyone has access to the Net, and only 30 percent of those who have access have made online purchases. In most cases, the prices are still too high compared with shopping at a physical store.
Add in potential return hassles, credit card and other security concerns, privacy issues, long waiting times to receive purchase items and difficulty navigating some of the Web sites, and it's amazing that people buy online as much as they do.
Several surveys have shown that a sizable portion of consumers would never purchase anything online if they had to pay a sales tax. With e-business still in its infancy, and its sales only a small percentage of total retail sales, taxation is premature.
Henry J. Aaron dismisses concerns about the effect of Internet taxation, breezily describing the current situation as a "sweet deal" for Internet and mail-order businesses. But he doesn't mention shipping costs or the fact that most large Internet retailers have offices throughout the nation and are already charged state sales taxes. Further, states are already enjoying a huge revenue boost from the growth of the Internet economy despite an inability to directly tax it.
Mr. Aaron also ignores the highly charged political issue about which tax is paid to whose home state--buyer's or seller's--which has long been resolved by rulings that neither state has jurisdiction for interstate sales. It is not so much an "unfair tax advantage" as a compromise based on political realities.
What is really being proposed as an "Internet tax" is a rehash of this debate about state taxation of mail-order transactions.