Is the Marketplace Fairness Act Fair for Wineries?


In short, yes, for a couple of reasons:

1. Wineries already pay sales tax in most states
2. The vast majority of wineries will likely be exempt from the law

So what is it, exactly?

Senate Bill S. 743, more commonly known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act“, is a pretty simple bill that would give states the ability to require out of state businesses that have “remote sales” in excess of $1 million annually to remit sales taxes. Each state would be able to opt in to the Act, but only after they have simplified their tax structure, either by joining the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement or to follow the steps outlined in the bill to simplify their sales tax requirements.

Will it pass?

With broad bi-partisan support, S. 743 passed out of the Senate with a vote of 69 to 27. However, a tough battle is expected in the House, and therefore the Marketplace Fairness Act has a long way to go before it is enacted with a signature from President Obama. Amazon.com is supporting the bill (presumably because they would like to move forward with their plans to build warehouses in each state to support same-day shipping), while eBay is one of the main voices in opposition.

What will it mean for wineries?

A lot hinges on the definition of “remote sales”. Keep in mind the fact that state legislation to allow wine shipments typically includes a provision that also requires wineries to register for and pay sales tax. As it stands in the Senate version, and based on our interpretation of the current language, sales by wineries to states where they are already required to pay sales tax would not be counted when considering the $1 million threshold for remote sales.

Based on some quick analysis, there are a few hundred wineries in the US that ship more than $1 million worth of wine to consumers each year. BUT, if you include sales only to those states (Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming) that do not require wineries to pay sales tax, then we estimate that less than 25 wineries would exceed the $1 million cap. In other words, the vast majority of the 7,000+ wineries in the US would be exempt from this law.

Wineries are already accustomed to calculating, collecting, and remitting sales taxes in most states. So, for those wineries that would not be exempt from this law, it would probably not be that big of a deal to add a few more states (initially the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wyoming) to the list of states to which they would be required to remit sales tax. They already have the technology and processes to do so.

The bill would take effect, at the earliest, on October 1st, 2013. Once effective, the 22 “Streamlined” sales tax states would begin requiring sales tax for remote sellers with over $1 million in sales. After that, each of the remaining 28 states would choose whether to opt in to the Act and start requiring sales tax from remote sellers.

A call to action in Maryland

Maryland consumers want you!Maryland is currently one of six states, including Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Pennsylvania, where all direct shipping is prohibited for both offsite and onsite sales. In fact, shipping wine into Maryland today can result in a felony.

But, that could all change soon. House Bill 1260 and its companion, Senate Bill 616, would establish a system where permitted wineries and wine retailers could ship directly to Maryland residents.

The bills are endorsed by Maryland consumers, Maryland wineries, out-of-state wineries, and out-of-state retailers. But, these groups need help and are calling for action because the wholesaler lobby will fight the bills fiercely. If you are interesting in supporting consumer choice in Maryland, you can get involved by following one or more of the steps below:

1) Visit Free the Grapes!, click on the link for Maryland consumers, and follow the instructions in the Action Alert

2) Share this post with all of the consumers that you know in Maryland

3) A hearing has been scheduled for HB 1260. The House Economic Matters Committee (House Office Building, Room 231) will begin the hearing on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 1pm. If you are able, or know anyone that is able, attend the hearing on Monday and voice your support.

Maryland Comptroller

A DIRECT WINE SHIPPER SHALL:

(1) ENSURE THAT ALL CONTAINERS OF WINE SHIPPED DIRECTLY TO A RESIDENT IN THE STATE ARE CONSPICUOUSLY LABELED WITH THE WORDS “CONTAINS ALCOHOL; SIGNATURE OF PERSON AT LEAST AGE 21 YEARS OLD REQUIRED FOR DELIVERY”;

(2) REPORT TO THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER ANNUALLY THE TOTAL OF WINE, BY TYPE, SHIPPED IN THE STATE THE PRECEDING CALENDAR YEAR;

(3) PAY ANNUALLY TO THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER ALL SALES TAXES AND EXCISE TAXES DUE ON SALES TO RESIDENTS OF THE STATE IN THE PRECEDING CALENDAR YEAR, THE AMOUNT OF THE TAXES TO BE CALCULATED AS IF THE SALE WERE MADE AT THE DELIVERY LOCATION;

(4) ALLOW THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER TO PERFORM AN AUDIT OF THE DIRECT WINE SHIPPER’S RECORDS ON REQUEST; AND

(5) CONSENT TO THE JURISDICTION OF THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER OR OTHER STATE UNIT AND THE STATE COURTS CONCERNING ENFORCEMENT OF THIS SECTION AND ANY RELATED LAW.

(B) A DIRECT WINE SHIPPER MAY NOT:

(1) SHIP MORE THAN 24 9–LITER CASES OF WINE ANNUALLY TO ANY ONE INDIVIDUAL; OR

(2) SHIP WINE TO AN ADDRESS IN AN AREA IN WHICH THE BOARD OF LICENSE COMMISSIONERS FOR THAT AREA MAY NOT ISSUE A LICENSE AUTHORIZING THE SALE OF WINE.