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Amazon Wants Calif. Voters To Decide On New Sales Tax Law

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In this Nov. 11, 2010 photo, packed boxes head toward shipping trucks at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, in Phoenix. (AP)

In this Nov. 11, 2010 photo, packed boxes head toward shipping trucks at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, in Phoenix. (AP)

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Amazon.com Inc. wants California voters to decide whether to overturn a new law that forces online retailers to collect sales taxes there.

A petition for a referendum was filed Friday with the state Attorney General’s Office so that voters can decide on the requirement, which was included in a state budget signed into law in late June.

The new law forces online retailers to collect California sales taxes by expanding the definition of having a physical presence in the state. The requirement now kicks in if an online retailer has a related company, such as a marketing or product-development arm, or affiliates in the state — individuals and companies that earn commissions by referring visitors to Amazon from their websites.

Passage of the law, which is projected to help the state collect an additional $200 million annually, adds California to a growing list of states that have turned to such measures in hopes of bringing in more tax revenue. Its legislature passed a similar law in 2009, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

Billions of dollars are at stake as a growing number of states look for ways to generate more revenue without violating a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits them from forcing businesses to collect sales taxes unless the business has a physical presence, such as a store, in that state. When consumers order from out-of-state retailers, they’re supposed to pay the tax that is due, but they rarely do and it’s difficult to enforce.

States are trying to get around the Supreme Court restriction by passing laws that broaden the definition of a physical presence. Online retailers, meanwhile, are resisting being deputized as tax collectors.

Amazon had thousands of affiliates in California, which received fees varying from 4 percent to 15 percent of each sale they brought to the company. Amazon, which is based in Seattle, cut ties with them after the law’s passage.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said the referendum supports “jobs and investment in California.”

“At a time when businesses are leaving California, it is important to enact policies that attract and encourage business, not drive it away,” he said.

Overstock.com Inc. also has cut ties to California affiliates because of the law.

According to the Performance Marketing Association, there are 200,000 affiliates across the country, 25,000 of which are located in California.

Amazon also has dropped affiliates in Arkansas, Connecticut and Illinois after similar sales-tax collection laws were passed there. Overstock, which is based in Salt Lake City, also has shuttered its affiliate programs in several states due to the laws.

Amazon does collect sales taxes in North Dakota, Kansas, Kentucky and its home state of Washington. It collects in New York, too, as it fights the state over a 2008 law, the first to consider local affiliates enough of an in-state presence to require sales tax collection.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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