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Wisconsin Passes Digital Download Tax 327

McGruber writes with news that the State of Wisconsin has passed legislation to extend sales tax to digital downloads. The new law will go into effect on October 1st. Estimates suggest that the 5% tax on "downloads of music, games, books, ring tones and other video entertainment" will bring in $6.7 million annually. "[Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle] has been fighting for the change for years. He and other state officials say it is a matter of fairness: Internet vendors shouldn't have a tax-exempt advantage over Wisconsin's brick-and-mortar retail stores." Similar legislation has been proposed in North Carolina, and we've previously discussed New York's foray into taxing sales made online in addition to downloaded purchases.
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Wisconsin Passes Digital Download Tax

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  • by neo-mkrey ( 948389 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:28PM (#26942255)
    In addition to this, the current legislature wants to increase the state sales tax another 0.5%, add a tax to car insurance sales and put toll booths on the Interstate. This after they voted themselves a 5.5% wage increase.
    • If it moves.... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FooAtWFU ( 699187 )
      If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.

      A tax on auto insurance? That's a regressive one. Oh, do they want more uninsured drivers on the road? Lovely. I can see how everybody wins with that proposal.

    • You have to pay for all those government programs somehow.

  • by SigNuZX728 ( 635311 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:29PM (#26942257)
    I'm a little confused how they're going to enforce this law against companies that have no physical presence in the state? I did not see that addressed in the article.
    • by doktor-hladnjak ( 650513 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:35PM (#26942307)

      I don't think the physical presence aspect is affected by this legislation at all. Previously, digital downloads were just not applicable to sales tax in Wisconsin, much like food or medical supplies are not taxable in certain states. If Apple or Amazon don't have a business presence in the state, their stores will probably remain sales tax free.

      I'm not sure why these articles are such news. We've been paying sales tax on digital downloads in Washington for as long as I can remember. We have both an Apple (via Apple Stores) and Amazon (headquarters and all) presence too.

      • by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @03:03PM (#26942547)
        If that's the case, then they are actually encouraging businesses to not come to their state, lest their internet operations be subjected to a costly tax. Large businesses like Apple or Amazon, which do such a large amount of online business, will probably end up stopping all operations in that state.

        If you tax something, you get less of it. This is kindergarden economics.
        • by frieko ( 855745 )

          they are actually encouraging businesses to not come to their state

          Welcome to the wonderful world of taxes. I should know, I'm from New York and there's a reason our population has been dropping like a rock for decades.

          • I like New York for two reasons, lake ontario and the weather.

            Taxes are what is really annoying. I claim zero dependents with only 35,000 a year salary and i still owe NY state taxes.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              "Taxes are what is really annoying. I claim zero dependents with only 35,000 a year salary and i still owe NY state taxes."

              That's about right. You have to spend money on tax-deductible things to get past the "standard" exemption. Your company accountant isn't pulling enough from your paycheck figuring you have something to claim that will get you a little back. When my wife and I bought our house the mortgage interest wasn't high enough to kick us past the standard deduction... you have to have a lot of

            • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 21, 2009 @05:11PM (#26943659)

              You do realize that having your withholding adjusted so that you owe instead of get a refund is a good thing right?

              • by Atomic6 ( 1011895 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @05:53PM (#26944001) Homepage
                Not sure why this was downranked, but I'll try to explain why Anon. Coward is correct in his thinking, to a certain point at least.

                If you get a refund, you'll get exactly what you would've have spent when you initially paid your taxes and had withholding's taken out. In other words, it's like the government was saving your money for you without paying interest like a bank would do.

                If, however, you owe money, that means you got to keep it in the bank or put it into some kind of investment, where it could grow grow. When it comes time to pay owed taxes, whatever interest or growth that money accrued is yours.
          • by mellon ( 7048 )

            Coulda' fooled me. I'm sure that's why the prices of real estate in New York are so much lower than they were ten years ago...

        • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @07:08PM (#26944531)

          Large businesses like Apple or Amazon, which do such a large amount of online business, will probably end up stopping all operations in that state.

          Yeah right. Apple's going to close down all its retail stores in a state (which bring in plenty of revenue) because of a tax on digital downloads. Economics isn't your strong point, is it?

      • exactly. They've passed the law, now let's see them enforce it.

    • Also, I figure a lot of people who live in that state will just list a friend's address in another state. Since nothing physical is being delivered, there's no effect on the actual purchase if one does this.

      • But on credit card purchases, in order to combat fraud, a lot of vendors are requiring billing address and "shipping address" to match.
        • Then they change the billing address of one of their cards, and pay it online.

          • True. You could do this. But then you get all of those stupid checks that can draw on your account mailed to an address where you don't get mail. Even worse, guess where they will send your replacement card...
    • by mkiwi ( 585287 )

      I am guessing (am hoping) that total revenue from a business must be above a certain amount to collect download tax. Small businesses on the Internet cannot afford the time or money lost to bookkeeping expenses.
      Retailers like Amazon and Apple can- they have armies of accountants who can take care of the paperwork.

    • by KingFeanor ( 950059 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @03:39PM (#26942811) Homepage
      The Wisconsin Income tax form has a spot on it for WI residents to report "use" tax for items they purchased which should be subject to sales tax. A WI resident is supposed to pay the "use" (really sales) tax on any items purchased online which would have been subject to sales tax in a WI store. So this bill just expands that to the digital downloads. For the most part this is just an "on your honor" tax. Most of us will never pay it given we don't like it and they really can't figure out that we owe it.
    • Technically in most states anything you purchase in another state and bring home is subject to your state's taxes too. So really this is already in place.

      No one claims it since its hard to track so we all feel safe ignoring it. However, its easy to track these purchases if you use giant services like paypal, or master-card to pay the bill. The small time operators taking money orders will sneak past, for now.

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:30PM (#26942261) Journal

    Option 1: Start using PayPal with an out-of-state relative's address
    Option 2: Get a PO box over state lines, and open a bank account there while you're at it.

    ...or Option 3: Move to Oregon, where we don't have a sales tax.

    I am curious, though - they expect to make $6.7m per year... how much of that will disappear into enforcement and accounting? Doesn't really seem like there's enough return on it to balance the hordes of pissed-off constituents.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ionix5891 ( 1228718 )

      Option 4: []

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Option 5:
        Pay the 4cents to keep your local government solvent.

        • Option 5:
          Pay the 4cents to keep your local government solvent.

          Why should a government not be forced to lay people off when the economy is? Besides, if the economy contracts, there's less paperwork and accounting and everything to be done, as well as less tax revenue to spend, so there should be no problem getting rid of jobs.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ktappe ( 747125 )

            Why should a government not be forced to lay people off when the economy is? (sic)

            Assuming the missing word in your question is "bad", the answer is that laying off people worsens the already worsening economy. Even conservatives should admit that one of the basic roles of government is to govern (thus the name). A governor, in mechanical terms, regulates an engine from going too fast or too slow. If it slows an already too slow engine, it is not doing its job. Laying workers off is the exact opposite if what government should do during a downturn. Laying them off in a booming economy i

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by toriver ( 11308 )

            I am sure the government will start laying off policemen when organized crime starts laying off criminals, and laying off teachers when families start laying off children...

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )
          If I need to pay taxes on digital downloads to keep my government solvent, I'm moving to a jurisdiction that can actually budget/spend less.
    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      You forgot to mention that gas is about 25 cents per gallon in Oregon because self-service gas stations are illegal. Or were you planning on surprising them with that little tidbit when they got out there?
      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        *an extra 25 cents per gallon -- haven't had my coffee yet.
        • I'm in Oregon and I'd like to see some numbers to back up your claim. I wouldn't be surprised if gas was a little higher, but 25 cents/gallon? I am skeptical. Also, be sure to factor in that different states of the US have wide variations in gas price, and as far as I know, just Oregon and one other state (can't recall) are the only ones that have this provision.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        You forgot to mention that gas is about 25 cents per gallon in Oregon because self-service gas stations are illegal.?

        Can we ban self-service stations here in the Northeast, too? I'd love 25 cents a gallon...

    • The key is to sneak the tax in early, when it doesn't make much money, so the early adopters get used to it. Then, as its use increases exponentially, the tax is just accepted as the way it is...

    • by cortesoft ( 1150075 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @03:07PM (#26942573)

      Yeah, this seems strange that you would go as far as to commit tax fraud, but you seem to be against downloading a free copy from file sharers. I am curious; is there a moral reason for this duality (maybe you think it is wrong to not pay an artist but not wrong to not pay the government?), or do you just enjoy thinking up ways to get out of having to do something someone is trying to make you do?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wastedlife ( 1319259 )
        Well, this tax violates the Interstate Commerce Clause, assuming that they are taxing purchases made with vendors from out of state as well. So they are advocating bypassing an illegal tax over copyright infringement.
  • economy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:31PM (#26942267)

    Glad to see that WI is working to help stimulate the economy by pulling more money out of it!!

    • Hey, California just passed enough tax increases to cancel out the Obama-stimpack. And when the economy here dies a little more, and revenues shortfall again, they will raise taxes again. Rinse and repeat. And big government fans think this is rational behavior and cheer it on. And people wonder why I'm considering retirement options overseas.
      • by Dolohov ( 114209 )

        And big government fans think this is rational behavior and cheer it on.

        There aren't really any big government fans. Just "government by our side" fans who don't mind the government being too big. Witness the last sixteen years, where each party suddenly loved small government the instant it lost power.

        • Re:economy (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Heather D ( 1279828 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @05:24PM (#26943759)

          Both parties have figured out that the best way to get control is to take advantage of the fact that everybody thinks everybody else is an idiot and cannot be trusted with their own money.

          Nobody in their right mind will vote Govt. into taking decision making power over themselves but it's usually acceptable to do it to 'those people'.

          The net result of this is that if you are in the under six-figure income bracket you'd probably better get used to the idea that there will soon be a bureaucracy in charge of everything in you life.

          If you were capable of making good decisions you'd be wealthier wouldn't you?

          Similarly, those of you who are in the over six-figure bracket will get your own bureaucracy to redistribute the wealth. No don't whine. You get your own welfare too.

          Everything has to be managed. And, of course, anything not controlled by bureaucrats is not managed.

      • Diddums. Tax is a zero sum game, it might hurt you but it's not going to hurt the economy overmuch: tax goes up, public spending goes up. For lower tax regimes than the US you might want to limit your search to Africa and some of the more war-torn regions of the planet. As a rule of thumb, anywhere with ADSL is going to be more expensive than where you are now.
        • Re:economy (Score:4, Informative)

          by thrillseeker ( 518224 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @04:41PM (#26943353)
          Tax is a zero sum game

          negative ghostrider - a tax involves a middleman, who involves an ever growing support structure, all of whom must be paid via tax, and who does not make decisions based on a profit perspective, but on a position of influencing a vote for him. That which is not profitable but is paid for regardless because of edict will not have competitive pressure for improvement. It will eventually cost more than an alternative that required continuous improvement to survive in a competitive environment. Anything that costs more than is necessary, espcially that which is legislated to exist and so has little incentive to be withdrawn because *voters* become dependent on it, draws away the ability to create and improve everything else, from stem cells to flying cars.

          Tax is not zero sum - it is a negative use of money. It should be kept to those minimal actions necessary for the survival of a society - like the Constitution envisioned.
          • Re:economy (Score:4, Insightful)

            by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @09:36PM (#26945451)

            Yes because we all know that a privately run fire department would be a much better use of tax payer's dollars. Or a privatized police force is the best use of a community's resources.

            Also city streets should be an amalgam of competing enterprises trying to win your daily commuting nickles.

            Needless to say I disagree with your assertion that EVERY enterprise performs better when exposed to competitive pressure.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Arancaytar ( 966377 )

      "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Take his fish away and tell him he's lucky just to be alive, and he'll figure out how to catch another fish for you to take away tomorrow!"

      I guess the governor of Wisconsin has read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates.

    • Actually it looks like they're trying to redirect spending away from out-of-state online stores and towards local retail shops. If online stores don't have a competitive advantage in prices due to no tax, they're hoping it will result in greater local shopping. Therefore more local stores stay open, more local jobs, etc etc.

      Basically another form of protectionism.

  • Why now? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:31PM (#26942271)
    Has something changed recently that makes all these states think Quill Corp. v. North Dakota no longer applies? Are they just following New York's lead and hoping the opinion is reversed? This is 17 year old case law; I don't see what would have changed to warrant reversing the precedent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nomadic ( 141991 )
      Quill doesn't prohibit that kind of taxation, it just requires that the seller have a nexus in that state. Apple could easily be taxed, as they have Apple stores in Wisconsin. I think, but am not sure, that Amazon might have some brick-and-mortar presence in Milwaukee.
      • Amazon has a presense in WI. They own, and I believe the store "the bop" on state street, Madison, that goes with it..

        • And do they make more money from those interests than it will cost to implement a single-state sales tax? Because if they don't, I can't imagine they'll still have those interests by October.

          Also, here in the UK, I'm fairly sure that my local Apple store is actually a franchise. I don't know if that's a common feature, or not.

      • Quill doesn't prohibit that kind of taxation, it just requires that the seller have a nexus in that state. Apple could easily be taxed, as they have Apple stores in Wisconsin. I think, but am not sure, that Amazon might have some brick-and-mortar presence in Milwaukee.

        If that's the case, then Apple and Amazon should be collecting sales tax now, no new legislation required.

        • They do already on physical items (ie: books, computers) but not on downloads (songs, ebook, ...)
          because, obviously, it was not required in Wisconsin yet. It is required in other states, and they do collect on those items too.


          • I'm in Michigan and the Apple store and iTunes have always collected sales tax on anything. Our sales tax laws are pretty much [everything ever] unless the state has an exception, and those are few for things like food and labor services like plumbers and auto repair (but they still tax the parts).

            I don't see how all these laws really change anything, they have no jurisdiction on out-of-state vendors with no PoP. And the big vendors in the state are already doing the same as their B&M's.

      • Quill doesn't prohibit that kind of taxation, it just requires that the seller have a nexus in that state

        That decision is going to hurt in the long run. Here in the UK there are problems caused by exactly this kind of law in the EU. When you buy something in the EU, you pay VAT in the seller's jurisdiction. Companies like exploit this by having their offices in the channel islands. The energy cost of buying from them is significantly higher, because their goods are all shipped out to the channel islands and back again, but the total cost is lower because they don't charge 15% VAT on top. It's har

  • What's really interesting about this trend is that in most states where sales tax is charged, the taxing department calls it a sales and use tax. The consumer is actually responsible for paying the 'use' tax on most items purchased either out of state where a lesser tax was paid or on items where no sales tax was paid.

    It seems like some states are trying to force the collection of the usage part of the sales and use tax onto the retailer.
  • by The Ultimate Fartkno ( 756456 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @02:55PM (#26942483)

    Good luck with that.

    anyone who ever used the internet *ever*.

  • Goose, meet axe.

  • Between this new trend, and the proposed legislation that users will have to maintain their router logs for 2 years, the next step will be metered internet access where you pay a tax per KB of data transferred. I mean, you are "purchasing" the use of that data through your ISP right, so it's sales-taxable?

    Then, since users will be confused and able to circumvent, the govt will issue standard routers for all citizens to use which maintain your tax meters and also monitor all of your traffic to make sure you

  • How many times does it have to be said, the power to tax interstate commerce is EXCLUSIVELY reserved for the Federal Government.

    This is an over-reach by a state once again. Here in RI we have the self reported 'use' tax. Under the legal theory they can't charge you if you buy it, but can if you use it.

    Almost makes me want to buy a few million dollars worth of gear and store it away.
  • by nasor ( 690345 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @05:42PM (#26943899)
    "Internet vendors shouldn't have a tax-exempt advantage over Wisconsin's brick-and-mortar retail stores."

    Umm, what? We're not talking about selling physical products, we're talking about selling data. Are there any brick and mortar stores in WI that let you come in and pay to download things to your USB drive using a connection at the cash register or something?
  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan ( 730745 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @06:11PM (#26944131)

    What exactly will Wisconsin do with this tax revenue? Will they now start providing their ALL of their citizens with Free Health Care?

    I suspect not. What exactly CANT wisconsin do that they're already doing with their current taxes?

    If we're going to tax our citizens more, then lets provide them with more services!

    When i'm buying something, i want to know what i'm getting, and it better be worth it.

    Wiki France.

  • by dangermen ( 248354 ) on Saturday February 21, 2009 @11:35PM (#26945997) Homepage


    Here is the deal:
    - If you don't pay them, your state can send you nasty grams in the mail saying "We see you have filed zero dollars in use taxes, please pay them." These notices are fairly common. IOW, the state tax departments are saying "Look, we aren't stupid, you're buying stuff on line, pay your tax". Now who here wants to keep records of the crap they buy JUST so you can pay use tax at the end of the year?
    - With a mandated sales tax, it means YOU don't have to keep records for paying end-of-year taxes. They just add it on to your purchase like any other state(if your state has a sales tax). I don't know about you but I'd much rather pay the friggin tax up front then worry about the stupid EOY paperwork.

    One thing to make life easier for consumers AND businesses: only allow one tax rate per state. example: Wisconsin has a moronic tax system where every county can charge differing rates something up to like 1/2% on top of whatever the state charges. Some counties are 5%, some are 5.5%, or like 5.25%. So to make it easier on on-line retailers, just legislate single tax rates per state for those that have a sales tax. End this moronic madness now.

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