A fundamental aspect of the good news of the gospel is the message of liberty. As President Joseph F. Smith said, “The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of freedom; the gospel of the Son of God is the gospel of liberty.” Men of God, both ancient and modern, have spoken on this issue repeatedly. This book analyzes what liberty is and how it applies to government.
One of the many troubling bills proposed in the Utah legislature this past session was one which would impose sales taxes on a variety of online and out of state businesses which do not currently collect them. Senate Bill 226, titled “Sales and Use Tax Amendments,” would have brought an estimated half million dollars into state coffers each year.
Though the bill ultimately failed, it passed out of the Senate committee meeting unanimously and then passed the entire Senate. Lobbyists were out in force, using some rather compelling arguments to convince legislators to support the bill. Those arguments have likewise been used to encourage the alteration of marriage law in America to apply to homosexuals. Both issues are a bad idea.
Requiring the collection of sales taxes by online merchants is positioned by proponents as an issue of equality and fairness. We are told that it is unfair to require brick-and-mortar stores to add taxes to their customer’s orders while their online, out-of-state competitors do not. Applying the same requirement to the latter group would be, we are told, the proper way to ensure all are taxed equally. A recent news article on the topic further clarifies:
Online sales taxes are not new, but thus far, Internet retailers have been exempt from collecting it, much to the chagrin of their brick-and-mortar peers who enjoy no such exemption. Customers who shop online are supposed to pay the sales tax directly to the government, but many don’t realize this, so it goes uncollected.
Traditional retailers have lobbied strongly for the bill, because they say it would level the playing field, and state governments are backing it because they realize the revenues such taxes would bring in.
But opponents argue that states should not have the power to dictate to businesses outside of their jurisdiction, and that such taxes would pose a major crimp on Internet sales.
While equality before the law is an effective argument, as is the case that taxes are being required discriminately, one must pause to consider the proper solution to a situation such as this. Retail stores are required by the state to become tax collectors, and online stores with no physical presence in the state are not. Should the state then increase its size, reach, and tax base in the name of fairness?
Absolutely not. Equality before and non-discrimination by the law is important, to be sure. But increasing the size and scope of the state is not the proper method to fulfill that objective. As is usually the case, the opposite is true; reducing and ultimately removing the other barrier is best. Because sales taxes are an illegitimate imposition into a private commercial transaction, political pressure should be applied to repeal that mandate from existing establishments, rather than shackling those that are currently exempt.
The same situation exists in the debate over same-sex marriage. Proponents of altering marriage law in the states and at the federal level claim that prohibitions against gay marriage are unfair and discriminatory. They claim that equality before the law demands that their relationships likewise be licensed and sanctioned by the state.
As with sales taxes, the state should not be enlarged in pursuit of equality in marriage licensure. Because the government has no business being involved in marriage, the discrimination inherent in existing marriage law is best remedied by removing it altogether, or at least reducing the inequality by removing tax credits, estate planning benefits, and other incentives currently restricted to heterosexual couples whose unions are licensed by the state.
When the state is wrongfully imposing mandates on a select class of citizens, it stands to reason that we should oppose attempts to broaden its reach. That illegitimate mandate should be fought and reduced, not openly sought after by some in the name of equality. It’s like suggesting in a bygone era that free black people should have been captured and enslaved, because after all, it wouldn’t be fair to their countrymen in captivity to not see them similarly yoked. Instead, we should be finding ways to break more people free from bondage.