CHEYENNE — Wyoming officials say they hope more online businesses will begin to pay sales taxes voluntarily but a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Matt Mead lays the groundwork to collect from those that refuse.
Wednesday also was the day that online retail giant Amazon promised it would begin voluntarily collecting taxes on sales in Wyoming. But most online businesses still don’t pay, to the disadvantage of shops on Main Street and others with a physical presence in the state.
“We’re a state made of relatively small towns. We want to make sure those towns continue to thrive and do well,” said Mead.
Complicating the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that states may not collect from businesses not physically located within their borders.
Under the bill, anybody outside Wyoming who does more than 200 transactions or $100,000 in sales in the state annually must pay sales tax. The Wyoming Department of Revenue can take those who don’t pay to court to collect.
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The bill, which takes effect July 1, offers some leniency. Those being sued by the state to pay up would not need to pay while their case is pending.
Sales taxes in Wyoming range as high as 6 percent depending on how much local communities assess on top of the basic state rate of 4 percent. How much money the new law could raise for cash-strapped Wyoming is inestimable, according to the bill’s fiscal note, but based on 2012 projections could total $28 million a year should courts side with the state.
Lawmakers fully expect Wyoming’s new law will get a run through the courts but the long-term benefit stands to outweigh the legal costs, said Rep. Mark Kinner, of Sheridan, a member of the Joint Revenue Committee that sponsored the measure.
“It could be very sizeable and certainly help our state when we need the help,” Kinner said.