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Amazon begins petition push to end California's electronic sales tax

How do you become the world's biggest online retailer? By paying attention to, and taking action in connection with, every business opportunity and threat.

That's why Amazon has thrown its support behind a federal online sales tax bill and mobilized to fight state sales tax collection on products purchased via the Internet.

The latest e-commerce tax battle is being waged in California.

On July 1 the Golden State started collecting sales taxes on products bought from online sellers who aren't based in the state but which have some state connection, such as workers (usually affiliate contractors), warehouses or offices within the state's boundaries.

The measure is projected to help cash-challenged California raise $317 million a year.

But Amazon and other online sellers say they just can't afford the cost to comply with online sales tax collection. So in addition to canceling affiliate deals, Amazon is leading the fight to take the tax question directly to California voters.

If the anti-tax groups can get 505,000 qualified signatures, Californians will get to decide next year, possibly as soon as February, whether the e-tail tax should stay or go. And that petition goal is this week's By the Numbers figure.

505000 Amazon California tax petition sigs

The petition drive went "in your face" this past week when anti-tax signature gatherers showed up at popular brick-and-mortar destinations in Los Angeles, San Diego and Pasadena.

Many of the targeted businesses, including Target and Trader Joe's, have complained that they have lost sales to tax-free Amazon sales. The tactic of using foot traffic at conventional stores in an effort to preserve a tax break irritated many traditional retailers.

"It's a particularly clever shot across the bows" of the big-box stores, Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a former Republican speechwriter, told the Los Angeles Times. "It says that not only do we intend to fight you in the court of public opinion but actually we're going to come onto your front porch."

If this is the way that the fight over the California electronic sales tax war is starting, look for things to get much nastier before it's finished.

Public vs. buyer opinion: It's no secret that folks hate taxes. And many do shop online specifically to avoid paying sales taxes.

Add to that California's long history of supporting anti-tax referenda, and Amazon has a decent chance at getting the public to repeal the state's new online sales tax. Remember, this is the place that 33 years ago gave us Proposition 13, the granddaddy of tax ballot initiatives.

But media opinion, at least right now, is decidedly against the Seattle-based giant e-tailer. You can check out the criticism of Amazon's no-tax stance at the collection of links gathered by the American Booksellers Association.

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