Following up on letters sent by New York booksellers to their state legislators, on Wednesday, March 19, American Booksellers Association staff joined representatives of the Retail Council of New York in Albany, where they met with key legislators from both the Assembly and Senate in support of the Internet Sales Tax provision's inclusion in the final state budget. At the meetings, the groups urged legislators to include in the final budget the provision that would enforce existing sales tax laws by requiring out-of-state retailers like Amazon.com to collect and remit sales tax on sales made to New York residents.
Initially, a series of lobbying events with independent booksellers had been planned for the day, but these appointments were canceled on the recommendation of the Retail Council after the abrupt resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer thrust the capitol into an unprecedented state of uncertainty. Before the day's start, it was unclear how all the upheaval would affect the day's focus, but the meetings with legislators proved to be a positive step forward for both ABA and the Retail Council on behalf of their members.
"We had a long day and some encouraging meetings in Albany with our ABA partners," said Retail Council of New York State President James R. Sherin. "With the hard work ahead of us during the next two weeks, it's important that individual retailers keep up the pressure with letters to their local legislators to let them know the importance of this budget proposal and their appreciation for the legislature's support to date. The [letter-writing] outreach so far has been critical and was an excellent table-setter for today's sessions. You can count on the Retail Council to keep up the work here in Albany until this budget is done."
During the day, ABA and the Retail Council met with the offices of State Senators Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), Frank Padavan (R-Queens), Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center), Owen Johnson (R-Babylon, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman), and Dale Volker (R-Depew); Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Denny Farrell (D-Manhattan); Assembly member Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady, and Assembly Minority Leader); and the office of Assembly Ways and Means Director Steve Pleydle.
"As we told legislators, the Internet Sales Tax provision is pro-New York and pro-business," said Oren Teicher, ABA COO. "The retail landscape is competitive enough for booksellers and other merchants without them having to compete at an eight-percent disadvantage because out-of-state retailers like Amazon.com are allowed to skirt New York's sales tax laws. We asked legislators to treat all retailers fairly by enforcing the existing tax laws and to allow the competitive landscape to be decided by product, service, and quality -- not be dictated by special favors to out-of-state retailers."
At a time when New York is facing a budget deficit of more than $4 billion, the groups stressed to each lawmaker how the state's unwillingness to enforce existing sales tax laws negatively effects crucial revenue streams for the state, and that this situation will only get worse as the number of people who shop online grows.
Teicher noted that, while it is unclear which provisions will be included in the final budget, he believed that the legislators with whom ABA and the Retail Council met now have a much fuller understanding as to why this issue is so crucial to the financial health of New York State retailers of all types, and to the vitality of Main Street.
"With fewer than two weeks before the April 1 budget deadline, it is imperative for New York booksellers to keep the pressure on by writing to their legislators to urge them to keep the Internet Sales Tax provision in the final budget," said Teicher. "While there is no guarantee that the budget will be passed by the deadline, currently, there is no indication that this budget will be delayed -- so it is critical to write your legislators now."
ABA has created template letters reflecting the latest developments regarding the budget and the Internet Sales Tax provision that New York booksellers are urged to send to their assembly member and senator. The letter to the assembly member thanks him or her for keeping the executive budget intact and urges a firm stand on keeping the Internet Sales Tax proposal in the final budget. The letter to a bookseller's state senator urges him or her to reinstate the Internet Sales Tax provision. Booksellers who have already written their legislators are being asked to write them again.
Booksellers can find their assembly member here and find their senator here. ABA also asks booksellers to send copies of their letters to ABA Public Policy Liaison Dave Grogan at firstname.lastname@example.org. --David Grogan