Saying that they are at an unfair disadvantage against massive online retailers, a group of small-business leaders called on state officials yesterday to help them out as they try to avoid fates similar to Borders.

 

At issue is the state sales tax, which must be collected by businesses with a physical presence in a state even if the purchase is made online.

 

The new group, called the Massachusetts Main Street Fairness Coalition, took aim at Seattle-based online retail giant Amazon.com, which does not collect the 6.25 percent sales tax on goods shipped to Massachusetts.

 

Currently, businesses like Walmart and even smaller, independent shops collect sales tax on their online orders. That puts them at a disadvantage and hurts their business and in turn, their contribution to the community, the coalition said.

 

"We do the same thing as the big boys and we have to charge the sales tax," said David Didriksen, owner of Willow Books in Acton. "The state itself takes the side against us. There should be one set of rules for everyone."

 

Amazon has been hunting for employees in the Greater Boston area as it looks to establish a research center in Cambridge, the Globe reported in December.

That, the coalition said, means the state should force Amazon to start collecting sales tax here.

"It's unfair that business like this is not on the same level playing field," said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll who is also co-chair of the coalition.

A recent act by the California Legislature to tax Internet sales was initially met with opposition by Amazon, but the company has since come to an agreement with the state that it would begin collecting sales tax there later this year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Retailers yesterday called on Bay State leaders to help.

Mass. consideration




The issue of a tax for online purchases was floated as recently as last year in the state Legislature.



The state Legislature's Committee on Revenue voted last summer to support a bill that would allow the state to collect tax on online purchases.

However, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said late last year that he still wanted to hear both sides of the issue before making a final decision, according to the State House News Service.

Opponents claim the bill is a new tax and would dissuade consumers who already have little extra money to spend in a weakened economy.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that states will lose about $23.3 billion this year from being prohibited from collecting sales tax from online and catalog purchases.