Va. Senate OKs sales tax bill for online retailers

A bill that would require global online shopping giants such as Amazon to start collecting and paying Virginia sales taxes won easy Senate passage Tuesday.

The Senate voted 28-12 to advance to the House a bill intended to collect millions of dollars in lost revenue at a time when the state faces a $4 billion shortfall.

Sponsor Emmett Hanger argued that struggling owners of so-called “brick-and-mortar” stores are struggling and shouldn’t have to compete with monied multinationals who ignore state taxes.

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“They’re being undercut by businesses that don’t pay sales taxes, and that flaunt it,” said Hanger, R-Augusta, noting that their Web sites entice customers to avoid the 5 percent tax.

While sales have been flat or worse for traditional retailers who have to pay the tax, Hanger said, multinational Internet sales behemoths have seen profits soar, Hanger said. [Read the full article]

With some payday lenders already finding ways around a two-week-old law meant to curb predatory lending, South Carolina legislators said Tuesday they’ll try again to close loopholes and threatened to ban the industry outright if it doesn’t cooperate.

Legislators passed restrictions last May that were meant to prevent payday lenders from ensnaring poor people into a cycle of debt. The law limited the number of loans to one at a time, of up to $550, and required lenders to check a new online database to ensure customers have no outstanding loans elsewhere.

“The ink wasn’t dry more than a couple of days, and there they were, scheming again, figuring out a way to circumvent the bill,” Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said of the compromise approved on the last day of regular session.

But payday lenders are skirting the database mandates by re-characterizing their loans, according to senators and advocates for the poor. [Read the full article]

Democratic Rep. John Mayo of Clarksdale proposed a tax of 2 cents per ounce for sweetened bottled or canned drinks, saying Mississippi needs money to battle one of the highest obesity rates in the nation.

House Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said he doesn’t expect to bring Mayo’s bill up for a vote, so the issue will die this session. Still, Watson held a nearly two-hour hearing Wednesday to give supporters and opponents a chance to speak.

Health advocates said a tax could deter some people from buying sugary drinks. Business groups said the tax would hurt the economy and would unfairly target one product in a state where people enjoy fried chicken and other fatty foods.

Bill Brown, president of Ridgeland-based Brown Bottling Group Inc., said his company employs 425 people in Mississippi, with a payroll of about $30 million a year. [Read the full article]

DirecTV Inc. on Thursday reported a fourth-quarter loss after absorbing a hefty merger charge. The nation’s largest satellite TV operator also added 60 percent fewer new subscribers as discounted bundles from competitors and a weak economy took their toll on growth.

DirecTV has benefited from cable companies losing ground in the battle for subscribers. However, it is up against aggressive marketing from fellow satellite TV operator Dish Network Corp. which has offered hefty promotions aimed at stealing away bargain-hunters. Dish says its ads — which claim DirecTV service is more expensive — are bringing in customers. DirecTV is suing Dish for false advertising.

DirecTV still remains one of the brighter lights in the subscription TV industry. [Read the full article]

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