I have suggesting this since at least 2007 as one of a few ways to improve use tax collection and make it easier. So I am very pleased to see this improvement. It had been included in AB 1957 as amended on March 25, 2008, but that bill was not enacted.
What does a look-up table look like? Well, examples exist because other states, including New York and Michigan, have been using them for a while. I included examples in testimony I submitted to the Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee for their use tax hearing on 2/28/11 (see picture at end of this blog post or see page 11 of my testimony for a nice one-page explanation of use tax that Michigan provides to its taxpayers - here).
I think the look-up table is going to cause more people to report use tax. Hopefully the line on the 540 for use tax will direct people to the table and tax prep software will likely ask if people want to use the look up table or report actual (and ask if any individual purchase was $1,000 or more). The bill includes a revenue estimate of $10 million annually (including a portion that belongs to local government). This is NOT a tax increase because the tax is already on the books (since 1935!) it just makes it easier for people to pay their tax.
Some additional measures to increase use tax compliance:
- Require that individuals and businesses without seller's permits may only pay use tax on the state income tax form (540 or 100) and the line cannot be left blank.
- Continue and broaden educational efforts about the use tax - what it is, its importance and now, the ease of computing it. For an approach used in Michigan, see page 12 of my 2/28/11 testimony.
- Main street resellers should consider promoting use tax education as well. This should help them, the state and perhaps encourage some Internet vendors to voluntarily start collecting. Sometimes, at the grocery store, they have two shopping carts piled with goods. One has a sign that says this costs you $121 at Store X and the other says this costs you $99 at this store. Main street retailers could have signs that say - "This book costs $21.76 here, while at Amazon, it costs $x + $y shipping ++ $z use tax that you have to pay on your own (and the total is more than $21.76 - otherwise, not a good ad!). Here, we will take care of the use tax for you!"
- Be sure state agencies are not buying from vendors that don't collect sales tax. In fact, it would be interesting to see if state agencies (including state schools) pay their use tax when they buy items from out-of-state vendors.
What do you think?