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Online sales taxes coming?

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Federal legislation requiring online retailers to collect state sales taxes from their customers is gaining momentum, picking up bipartisan support in Congress and the backing of one-time opponent Amazon.com.

At a hearing this week in Washington, the fight was not about whether to pass a bill but who should be covered by it. A Senate proposal backed by Amazon exempts online retailers with less than $500,000 in sales, but eBay and other web companies favor a much higher cutoff of at least $7 million. eBay says the lower threshold would put small Internet retailers at a competitive disadvantage because of the cost of remitting sales taxes to more than 40 states, including Massachusetts.

The issue of Internet taxation has been simmering for close to 20 years. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling said online retailers aren’t required to collect sales taxes on purchases made by residents of states where the retailer doesn’t have a physical presence such as a store or warehouse. That created an unfair playing field between online-only retailers and brick-and-mortar store operators who also sell over the Internet.

States have been clamoring for the sales tax revenue they say they are owed but unable to collect. The University of Tennessee estimates states will miss out on more than $11 billion in sales tax revenue in 2012. Estimates in Massachusetts range from $180 million to $337 million.

Until recently, Amazon fought tooth and nail against any change in the status quo. When California passed a law requiring certain online retailers to collect sales tax, Amazon spent $5 million collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn it. But now Amazon is supporting federal legislation, probably because it figured it could benefit competitively and maybe even financially.

                                                                                                                                                --BRUCE MOHL




BEACON HILL

Casino magnate Steve Wynn has his eyes on a Foxborough parcel owned by Robert Kraft. Wynn will be in town Sunday to take in the Pats game with Kraft, and to gauge local sentiment toward gambling, the Sun Chronicle reports. Meanwhile, Chip Tuttle, the CEO of Suffolk Downs, starts building local support for a casino at the track with a speech to a business group promising spending of $1 billion and 3,000 permanent jobs, the Lynn Item reports. Tuttle says road improvements in the area will be necessary if a casino is approved, the Salem News reports.


Attorney General Martha Coakley files “the first comprehensive legal action” in the country against five major banks involved in foreclosures. She is targeting Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and GMAC.

Matthew McLaughlin, the son of embattled former Chelsea Housing Authority executive director Michael McLaughlin, was fired from his job on a state board that hears appeals from convicted drunken drivers, the Lowell Sun reports. The Globe reports that prior to his questionable hiring by the state appeals panel, Matthew McLaughlin was hired for a $65,000 a year job at a Chelsea social service agency, and that two months later the agency, Roca, got a $240,000 contract from the housing authority he father was running.

The Berkshire Eagle applauds Senate President Therese Murray for dismissing the idea of a moratorium on wind turbine projects, but throws darts at her opposition wind siting reforms.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Three protesters were arrested after Occupy Boston residents try to install a kitchen sink in their tent city. Protesters did manage, however, to sneak in a heavy-duty winterized tent, apparently to the chagrin of Boston police. Radio Boston examines whether Occupy Boston can continue without Dewey Square.

Lawrence finished the last fiscal year with a surplus, the second in a row. “The city’s making progress,” says the city’s state-appointed overseer, according to a story in the Eagle-Tribune.

Lynn is preparing to send a letter to a Level 3 sex offender living within 1,000 feet of an elementary school in apparent violation of a city ordinance, the Item reports.

ELECTION 2012

In the National Review, Michael Barone has figured out why Mitt Romney acts and sounds so “corny” -- he missed the 60s. The American Spectator says the usually unflappable Romney has increasingly appeared flapped. Romney still can’t get love from the GOP elite. The Globe says the Romney camp may need to rethink -- quickly -- its strategy of not engaging in the GOP primary battle and focusing on President Obama in the manner of a presumed nominee.

Here’s a phrase you never thought you’d see in the same sentence with Newt Gingrich’s name: He’s a uniter. He’s also an ideas man.

Demographic shifts put Arizona in play for President Obama. The president’s coalition has grown in other key battleground states as well.

Democratic US senate candidate Tom Conroy gets some rare news coverage in the Globe as he rolls out a jobs proposal.  But as fast as you can say, “Tom who?” the Wayland state rep takes a tough hit from columnist Scot Lehigh, who says Conroy is not providing much reason for  voters to hold off on the rush to embrace Democratic front-runner Elizabeth Warren.  Meanwhile, an online poll carried out by a UMass political scientist has Warren and US Sen. Scott Brown in a dead heat.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Unemployment has fallen to its lowest rate in more than two-and-half years.  

ZigGlobal Holdings of Hingham and its CEO, Michael Lee, were among a number of individuals and companies swept up in an FBI sting looking into illegal trading and kickbacks in the micro-cap stock markets, commonly referred to as penny stocks.

EDUCATION

One of the students expelled from Andover High School in a hazing scandal went on Facebook to slam the investigation of the incident and call for a meeting of the team, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association is launching a push to expand the number of charter schools in the state’s Gateway Cities, an effort that will be spearheaded by John Schneider, MassINC’s longtime vice president who will be leaving to oversee the drive.

The Springfield Republican throws cold water on the idea of a centralized Boston-based board to oversee community colleges, arguing that Greater Boston doesn’t always have the interests of  Western Massachusetts in mind.

A proposal to spend $1 million on iPads for students at the Wachusett Regional School District is rejected by selectmen, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports.

Three male students at Westford Academy channel Footloose, organizing their own dance after the school bans “grinding,” the Lowell Sun reports.

A Boston first-grader is being investigated for sexual harassment.

HEALTH CARE

A new study finds that Cape Codders who were exposed to solvents in drinking water in utero or as infants and toddlers were more prone to drug use.

Children in foster care in Massachusetts are prescribed psychotropic drugs at four times the rate of other children receiving health care coverage through Medicaid, a new study shows.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Pew Research poll finds more moderate and liberal Republicans are coming around to the idea global warming is real and humans may have a hand in it.

A Bristol Superior Court judge has taken under advisement the latest effort of a group of Fairhaven residents trying to block the construction by the town of two wind turbines, which opponents claim present health hazards from low-level noise and shadow flickers.

Falmouth is divided over whether a permit for its wastewater treatment facility is too lenient or too strict.

A Springfield biomass projects get a green light.

The American love affair with big cars has been rekindled.

ARTS & CULTURE

Creative economy guru Richard Florida has come up with the top 10 US arts locations, based on the share of artists in the population. Two Bay State locales make the grade, but they probably aren’t the places you are thinking of. New Bedford, which has been diligently building an arts and culture sector, clocks in as the 7th artsiest spot in America, and the Barnstable-Yarmouth area of Cape Cod places 9th.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Former Lowell City Manager B. Joseph Tully is sentenced to two years of probation for accepting money to keep a Registry of Motor Vehicles office in a building owned by a business client, the Lowell Sun reports.

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