Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) : Marketplace Fairness Act

Posted on July 12, 2012

I have come to the floor in support of Senator Enzi of Wyoming, Senator Durbin of Illinois, and a group of other Senators and House Members who are working on legislation called the Marketplace Fairness Act.  

I am going to let them do their own speaking.  I am their chief self-appointed cheerleader.  Senator Enzi has been working on this ever since he has been in the Senate.  He has a special passion for it as a former owner of a shoe store in Wyoming. 

Let me see if I can phrase it this way.  If I were to ask the question, What do Governor Chris Christie, Governor Mitch Daniels, Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Haley Barbour, Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Governor Paul LePage of Maine all have in common, one might say they are all Republicans, and that is true.  One might say they are all conservatives, and that is true. 

The other thing one could say about those Governors and Republicans and conservatives is that they all support the Enzi-Durbin Marketplace Fairness Act. 

What is the Marketplace Fairness Act and why do they support it?  The Marketplace Fairness Act is an 11-page bill about a two-word issue, and the issue is States rights.  The reason I am such a strong supporter and a cosponsor of what they are doing is because when I, in my former life, used to be Governor of Tennessee, nothing would make me angrier than Washington politicians who would try to tell me what to do about my own business.  We have a legislature in Tennessee and in Wyoming and we have a Governor and we know what services we want and we have a range of options of taxes to pay for that.  It was always my position we could make our own decisions about how to do that. 


What Senators Enzi and Durbin and others of us are saying is that States have a right to decide what taxes they impose and from whom to collect them.  If the States of Tennessee or Wyoming say:  We are going to have a sales tax and we are only collecting it from half the people, it has the right to be wrong.  That is what I mean by States rights.  If I were in Tennessee, I would say:  Surely, you will not have a State sales tax and only collect it from some of the people.  You would collect it from all the people who owe it.  Surely, you will treat all your businesses that are in a similarly situated situation the same way.  That would be my position if I were Governor or in the legislature, but I will let them decide that.  What we have advanced in the Senate, which has 13 cosponsors, is a piece of legislation that makes it clear States can decide for themselves whether to collect State sales taxes from some of the people who owe it or from all the people who owe it.  I will give an example and then I will sit down and listen to Senator Enzi and let him talk. 


This past week I had a birthday, and my wife gave me an ice cream maker from Williams-Sonoma, which I am sure is going to add a few pounds as the months go on.  So there we were over the Fourth of July holiday, and I wanted to get some of the stuff one needs to make ice cream.  You can buy ice cream starter from Williams-Sonoma and it comes in a can and it makes the project a lot easier and you can buy chocolate syrup and they will mail it right to your house.  You can do all these things online, of course, or I could have driven back to Nashville and gone to the store in Nashville and bought it all there.  If I had bought all that stuff in Nashville, I would have paid Nashville’s 9.25 percent sales tax.  If I buy it online, I wouldn’t have to pay the tax when I bought it, except that Williams-Sonoma collects it.  So I went on the Internet, put it on my credit card, and there was the amount of money it cost to buy the stuff for my ice cream maker.  Right at the end of it, it added the tax on, the same sales tax I owed and would have paid if I had been at Williams-Sonoma in Nashville.  So I pushed the button, off it went, they collected the tax from my credit card, sent it to the State of Tennessee, and it was done. 


Twenty years ago, that wouldn’t have happened with an out-of-State seller.  It was too cumbersome.  The technology wasn’t advanced, the Internet wasn’t as fast, and the States had not gotten their acts together.  It was all very confusing, and the Supreme Court said you can’t impose that on States – requiring an out-of-State seller to collect the sales tax that is owed – even though it may be owed.  Today, it is different.  It is as easy to figure out the tax as it is to Google the weather in your hometown.  In fact, it is easier.  It is easier to have the tax collected online than it is to go into the store and do it. 


In any event, in the State of Tennessee, Governor Haslam and the Lieutenant Governor – and I can guarantee we are a conservative State – want the right to decide that for themselves.  I know what they are going to do, if they have the right to collect the sales tax from everybody who owes it instead of just some of the people who owe it.  They are going to lower the tax rate for everybody.  They might get rid of the only vestige of an income tax we have, or the food tax might go down.  They might spend some more money for teachers’ salaries.  That is their business. 


But I am here to say that Senators Enzi and Durbin and others have solved a big problem for this country, and the reason why this bill is inevitable and why I hope it will pass this week or next week or the next week – and why I believe the House of Representatives is going to pass it as well – is because it is a simple 11-page bill about a 2-word issue:  States rights.  That is why Governor Christie and Governor Daniels and Governor Bush and Congressman Pence and many Republicans and many conservatives are saying let’s pass it.  Let’s get out of the way and let States make their own decisions, and then the States can decide from whom they want to collect their sales taxes.


I congratulate Senator Enzi --- and Senator Durbin – on his work and I look forward to working with Senator Enzi and I hope this year we can continue to turn this bill the Senator has worked on for more than a dozen years into a law.