Former St. Joseph Mayor Bill Falkner can give his colleagues in Jefferson City a unique perspective on a proposed online sales tax.
Falkner, now a state representative from St. Joseph, tells our reporter how local businesses used to complain to the mayor’s office about losing sales to online competitors that didn’t add a tax to the purchase price.
“One business even told me, ‘Why should I invest in employees when I can just send out a catalog?’” he said. “So in the long run that’s hurting the local economy.”
It’s a compelling story, one he should relay to his Republican colleagues in Missouri’s capital. The Republican supermajority is loath to raise taxes — we are, too — but the time has come to even the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses and allow local government to capture revenue from this growing segment of the retail landscape.
Some taxes aren’t just levied to raise revenue. Some seek to modify behavior, as in the tax placed on cigarettes, or to level the playing field, which is the aim of a progressive income tax.
An online sales tax would do both, prompting more shoppers to make purchases from local retailers, which would help keep money local and benefit those who live and work here. A drive down the Belt Highway, where more than one former big-box store remains vacant, shows that those retailers that do business in St. Joseph could use all the help they can get.
Cities and counties, which rely on sales taxes for the bulk of their revenue, also could use the boost as they seek to maintain essential services.
Would an online sales tax have any chance of passing? The U.S. Supreme Court already cleared the way with a 2018 ruling, but states have to take action. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson put his support behind a proposal during this year’s legislative session. The measure, a complex undertaking given that there are more than 2,000 different tax rates in the state, was unable to gain final passage.
For someone like Falkner, part of the job comes in communicating the importance of an issue like this.
One could certainly argue that an online tax is a more critical issue than a state law change involving a narrow question of vehicle trade-ins, primarily in rural areas. The governor raised some eyebrows this week when he called a special session on that matter.
Falkner, elected last year, displays understanding of the complexities of an online tax and a desire to help this issue advance in future legislative sessions. More than anything, he has the valuable perspective of knowing how it feels at the local level, waiting for Jefferson City to get something done.