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A 2018 Supreme Court tax decision is helping state budgets during the pandemic

Marielle Segarra Sep 3, 2020
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States are collecting substantial online sales tax revenue while some other forms of commerce shrink. Mapodile/Getty Images
COVID-19

A 2018 Supreme Court tax decision is helping state budgets during the pandemic

Marielle Segarra Sep 3, 2020
Heard on:
States are collecting substantial online sales tax revenue while some other forms of commerce shrink. Mapodile/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

You were always supposed to pay taxes on the stuff you bought online. But until recently, states could not require online retailers to collect those taxes.

“Individuals who purchased goods were expected to keep track of the untaxed items they purchased and remit to the state,” said Jared Walczak, vice president of state projects at the Tax Foundation.

As you might imagine, “compliance was incredibly low,” he said. “Barely anyone did it.”

States were losing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes a year.

Then came the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in the case South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. The court ruled that states could pass legislation requiring online retailers to collect taxes on their behalf.

Turns out, that came at a good time.

“With the pandemic and so many people staying home, that has caused a significant increase in the amount of purchases that are online,” said Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

People are buying laptops and bike shorts and patio furniture online, and before the Supreme Court decision, Texas would not have collected taxes on most of those purchases.

The state estimated it would bring in an additional $500 million a year because of this ruling. It’s actually collecting double that.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, tax revenue is up by 9% compared to this time last year, in part because of this decision.

“I think it’s actually helping the states quite a bit,” said Lucy Dadayan, senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “Every single state that I have been looking at has been reporting substantial increase in sales tax revenues from online sales.”

She said a lot of states are still seeing their revenue drop overall.

In Texas, it’s down by 3.4% this fiscal year.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

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It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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