Florida could be losing anywhere from $1-3 billion a year in lost tax revenue. State law already requires people who buy on the Internet or through catalogs to pay state sales tax, but few do. Efforts to take the first steps toward changing the system are being thwarted by the changing definition of a candy bar.
Floridians are spending an estimated $16 billion a year on purchases from e-bay, other Internet sites or from out of state catalogs.
The law says purchasers must file a DR 15 MO with the Department of Revenue, and then pay the tax, but fewer than 2,000 were filed last year. Retailers in Florida say the current law puts them at a disadvantage.
"If someone goes online because they can afford a computer or Internet access, they don't have to pay that tax, and that's simply not fair.
The sign outside the retail federations Tallahassee headquarters says Florida has already lost nearly half a billion dollars in taxes due since January. It has gotten the attention of bipartisan state senators who want Florida to join a national coalition petitioning congress to start taxing Internet sales.
"It will allow us to continue the medically needy program, it will allow us to do a lot of things to help most Floridians who actually need the services."
As part of the national coalition, Florida would have to make minor changes in the way it collects sales tax. that has caused the powerful house speaker to say no.
"One of the things causing confusion for Florida lawmakers is this Twix candy bar, right now under the current law it's taxable, but under the new it wouldn't be, that's because when you turn it over you can see it contains flour, and that would make it food."
The money would not be an immediate fix. The first dime is at least three years away, but unless Florida moves sooner than later, it will keep losing billions.
The changes in what's taxable to bring Florida in line with other sates is a break-even deal, it doesn't raise new money or cost Florida lost tax revenue. most major business groups in the state support the change and the collection of taxes from Internet and catalog sales at the national level.