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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.

Utah Allows Shipment of Wine? Well, Not Exactly

In one of the most regulated and restricted states in the US, residents may now special-order alcohol online. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) announced that Utah residents may use an online Special Order Form to purchase alcohol that is otherwise unavailable in the State’s liquor stores. The alcohol would then be shipped to a DABC store location of the buyer’s choosing for pickup. Available since September of this year, the system was relatively unknown until recently due to limited exposure.

Residents of Utah may special order from any licensed vendor located in the United States, which includes producers, authorized agents, and wholesalers, among others. For Utahns ordering international products, they must order the product from a licensed US importer. All vendors, of domestic and international products alike, must be registered with the DABC. There is no cost associated with registration. For more information about what type of vendor to order from and how to register as a vendor refer to the website.

After deciding on the product and vendor from whom to purchase, the ordering process is very straightforward. Some important information required for ordering includes the product name, size and vintage and also the specific DABC store location and date desired for pickup. When ordering, Utahns should keep in mind that vendors may not ship products individually and be prepared to order by-the-case. Also, applicable sales taxes (state and local) are paid by the consumer.

Although the order form takes a relatively short amount of time to fill out, delivery takes much, much longer. The buyers should expect delivery 45 days after the DABC receives the price quotation, at the earliest. This is due, in part, to the custom nature of each order.

The fact that Utah, a heavily controlled state, created an easy-to-use order form for residents to purchase almost any alcoholic beverage available in the US (albeit with a lengthy transaction completion time line) is an acknowledgement of the importance of consumer access and choice. However, it is very important to note that the new special order form does not allow direct shipments to Utah residents because the products may only be picked up at a DABC store.

The Poster Prohibited State Slackens Slightly

Last Friday, Wine and Spirits Daily reported that Utah’s grip on liquor has let up, at least a little bit. The recent rule change applies only to Utah brewers and distilleries but this could potentially be good news for everyone in the alcohol industry. The new ruling allows Utah residents to purchase onsite orders from Utah breweries and distilleries. Utah wineries have enjoyed this same freedom since 1991. This decision is part of Governor Huntsman’s effort to free the state of the private clubs. Though it hasn’t been mentioned as a step in the governor’s plans to “liberalize” Utah’s liquor laws, perhaps this loosening will open up the gateway for responsible direct shipping legislation in the future.

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.