A Capital Showing: Booksellers Go to Hartford in Support of E-Fairness

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Pictured following their testimony are, from left, David Grogan, ABA senior public policy analyst; Fran Keilty of Hickory Stick Bookshop; Kathryn Fabiani of R.J. Julia Booksellers; Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books; Suzanne Staubach of UConn Co-op; and also attending Michael Keilty.

On Monday, March 15, a group of Connecticut booksellers testified at a state Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, in support of e-fairness legislation. If passed, the legislation, Raised Bill 5481, would clarify sales tax laws to require non-Connecticut merchants to collect sales tax on purchases shipped to Connecticut if they have online affiliates in the state acting as sales agents on their behalf. A committee vote on 5481 is expected at the end of March or in early April.

The Connecticut booksellers who appeared at the hearing were Kathryn Fabiani of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison; Fran Keilty of Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot; Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic; and Suzanne Staubach of UConn Co-op in Storrs. Fabiani, Staubach, and Philbrick testified at the hearing.

"We are very grateful that the booksellers took time out of their busy schedules to attend the committee hearing in Hartford," said Oren Teicher, ABA CEO. "It made a huge impact. Their persuasive testimony and presence powerfully articulated the key points in the sale tax equity argument and demonstrated the commitment of Main Street retailers to working to effect important change. They made clear to the committee that leveling the playing field for the more than 20,000 retailers in Connecticut is an issue of critical importance."

Teicher added that it is still important for all Connecticut booksellers to write to the co-chairs of the committee in support of Bill 5481. To make easier, booksellers can adapt a template letter from ABA's E-Fairness Action Kit.

Also attending the hearing in support of 5481 were ABA Content Officer Dan Cullen, ABA Senior Public Policy Analyst David Grogan, and Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association (CRMA), an organization that is working with ABA in support of 5481. Grogan testified on behalf of ABA members in Connecticut.

In her testimony, Fabiani stressed, "Local, independent retailers such as R.J. Julia Booksellers are faced with significant competitive pressures every day, and every day small businesses are failing. Even an established retailer like R.J. Julia Booksellers is routinely faced with the prospect of cutting jobs and reducing purchases from other local businesses, in order to compensate for the loss of sales to online retailers. By enforcing our sales tax laws fairly among all retailers, the playing field will be more level, and the state will not be unfairly favoring a small percentage of businesses" at the expense of the thousands of businesses in the state that do collect and remit sales tax.

UConn Co-op, the bookstore serving the University of Connecticut and the surrounding local community, supports "writers and readers, offer[s] a wide array of books, and [has] an active website," said Staubach in her testimony. "But today's readers too often opt to shop online where sales tax is not collected, rather than in our bookstore, or at other Connecticut retailers where sales tax is collected."

Staubach stressed the importance of sales tax to the state and the services it offers, and said, "We are happy to do our share … but we are not happy that this gives out-of-state online retailers a huge advantage over us and other Connecticut businesses."

Bank Square's Philbrick stated that sales tax inequity has had a significant, negative impact on her business. "It has put my business at an unfair competitive disadvantage, has cut into my sales, and is affecting my bottom line," she said. "I see firsthand examples of this almost daily in my store. Customers will come in, browse through our many curated titles, often get reading suggestions from our knowledgeable staff, and then tell us that they are going to purchase the titles from Amazon.com."

ABA's Grogan stressed that the current sales tax inequity is at a critical stage for ABA members and retailers like them in the state -- and something needs to be done now. "I do not wish to minimize the concerns of those who may oppose this legislation," he said, "but I do wish to stress that we are not talking about what ifs here…. We are talking about what is happening … our members have been living with this inequity for years now, and, as it gets worse, it will be tougher and tougher for them to stay afloat. We are talking about people's livelihoods, jobs that some have held their entire adult lives. A solution is needed, and we believe 5481 is that solution."

Maryland Booksellers Testify on Behalf of E-Fairness

On Wednesday, March 17, a group of Maryland booksellers testified at, and a number of others submitted testimony for, a state Senate Budget and Taxation committee hearing in support of e-fairness legislation, SB 824, in Annapolis. If passed, the legislation would clarify sales tax laws to require non-Maryland merchants to collect sales tax on purchases shipped to Maryland if they have online affiliates in the state acting as sales agents on their behalf.

The Maryland booksellers who appeared at the hearing were Mary Adams of The Annapolis Bookstore in Annapolis; Patrick Darby of Novel Places in Rockville; and Robin J. Dunn and Molly Inzeo of St. John's College Bookstore in Annapolis. Adams and Darby testified at the hearing. Booksellers who submitted written testimony in support of SB 824 were Lauretta M. Nagel of Constellation Books in Reisterstown; and Fred Powell of Main Street Books in Frostburg.

Look for more on the Maryland hearing in next week's Bookselling This Week.