Local businesses suffer with Internet tax break

I love bookstores. It's not unusual to find the whole Maxwell clan holed up in the Winter Park Borders, sipping coffee or hot chocolate while leafing through magazines and picking out books for the kids.

You know who else loves bookstores? The people who work there.

Working there allows them to earn a living and feed their families.

Unfortunately for those people, Florida lawmakers are helping put our local bookstores out of business — and putting brick-and-mortar stores of all kinds at a competitive disadvantage to online retailers.

They do so by forcing local companies to collect sales taxes while giving a break to out-of-state retailers.

Not only does this hurt local businesses and cost jobs, it also robs the state's coffers of as much as $1 billion.

That's right — a billion.

At a time when we're talking about laying off teachers, cutting funding to veterans programs, slashing funding for nursing homes and everything else.

And to what end?

So that Amazon.com can sell Twilight for 47 cents cheaper than the businesses that actually help our economy?

That's just wrong.

Let's back up for a minute, though, and start with the basics.

Current Florida law requires residents to pay sales tax on most purchases — including those purchased over the Internet.

Surprised? Well, you're not alone. Most Floridians are completely unaware that they're tax cheats.

Even the state knows this, posting on the Department of Revenue's website: "Most Florida citizens are not aware that this state has a 'use tax.'"

We do. Residents are supposed to file an "out-of-state purchase return" equal to 6 percent of any tax-free online purchases.

But the vast majority of Floridians file no such thing.

That's why it would make more sense for online retailers to collect the taxes themselves. Retailers with a physical presence in this state already do.

Let me give you an example with the Twilight book I mentioned above.

Now, I don't actually want to read Twilight. I think I'd rather offer my jugular directly to a vampire.