After Supreme Court ruling, Texas bills would bring in $850 million in online sales tax

By Edgar Walters

Texans who shop online could soon see purchase prices go up — filling the state treasury by roughly a half-billion dollars over the next two years — thanks to a proposed new sales tax levy on out-of-state sellers.

A pair of bills unanimously advanced by the Texas Senate on Friday would allow the state to collect sales tax on items sold by vendors who do not have a physical presence in Texas. A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. held that such taxes were constitutional.

One bill allows for the Texas Comptroller to identify a single tax rate to apply to remote sellers and is expected to generate $300 million over the next two years. Because local taxing jurisdictions in Texas have varying sales tax rates, ranging from 6.25 to 8.25 percent, lawmakers say the bill is intended to simplify online vendors’ sales tax calculations.

Lawmakers already assumed they would have the additional $300 million available to them after the Supreme Court ruling, so the bill would have no effect on the 2020-2021 budget that lawmakers are currently deliberating. That bill was agreed to by both chambers and heads next to Gov. Greg Abbott.

But another bill would apply the state sales tax to remote sellers who use online, third-party marketplaces such as Etsy, Ebay and Amazon, and is expected to yield more than half a billion dollars for the state. If a Texan purchases an item online from a seller in another state using a “marketplace,” a definition that includes websites and software applications, the marketplace would be responsible for collecting and paying sales tax on those transactions. Officials estimate the bill would yield an additional $550 million in 2020 and 2021 above what lawmakers included in their budget assumptions.

While the House and Senate versions of the legislation, House Bill 1525, are largely similar, they differ on whether to direct the comptroller to study the fiscal impacts of exempting small marketplaces from the tax. That difference could lead to the creation of a conference committee to work out an agreement.

"This legislation paves the way for Texas to fairly collect online sales tax within the parameters outlined by the Supreme Court,” Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said last week in a prepared statement after the legislation passed through her committee. “These bills ensure that no undue burdens are placed on remote sellers.”

This article originally appeared at The Texas Tribune.