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Online sales taxes about 'fairness,' Georgia Chamber head says

Chris Clark, right, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, speaks with State Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, Wednesday morning at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Chris Clark, right, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, speaks with State Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, Wednesday morning at the Hilton Garden Inn.

ALBANY, Ga. — Chris Clark, the top executive of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said during an Albany stop Wednesday that ultimately, the online sales tax question facing Congress is about fairness.

Clark, the president of the Georgia Chamber, said that ultimately his organization advocates for all businesses but that he believes businesses should be operating on the same playing field.

"It's about fairness. We don't think its fair that one set of businesses have to do things one way and another has another set rules to follow," Clark said. "What we want to do is help all of the businesses and what we've said over the last couple of years is that this needs to be a federal solution."

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would allow states to compel online retailers to remit sales taxes for online purchases. The bill has sparked a debate among Americans whether online retailers should be forced to remit sales taxes like their brick-and-mortar competitors.

"There are no borders with business; it doesn't matter whether there is a county line or a state line," Clark said. "So for businesses to have one system out there is the right system to do."

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 69 to 27 to back the measure, which pits brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart Stores Inc and cash-hungry state governments against such Web retailers as eBay Inc and Republicans wary of new tax measures.

"Call me a conservative, but I believe the right approach to tax fairness is to reduce rates - not force higher rates onto others," said Tom Graves, a House Republican from Georgia.

House Speaker John Boehner plans to send the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, a senior Republican aide said. That will mean hearings ahead. The Senate uncharacteristically bypassed this step.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, a Republican, has reservations about the legislation, including its complexity and potential impact on small businesses, a spokeswoman said.

Backers of the measure include major traditional retailers Wal-Mart and Best Buy Co Inc, as well as e-tailing giant Amazon.com Inc, which wants to simplify its U.S. state sales tax payments.

Opponents include many other online merchants such as eBay , Overstock.com Inc and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. Lawmakers from states without sales taxes - like Montana, Oregon and New Hampshire - largely oppose the measure.

States that charge sales tax have largely been unable to require e-tailers to collect it from purchasers unless the e-tailer had a physical presence in the state. Otherwise, consumers are supposed to pay the tax, but very few do.

Some states have made separate arrangements with Amazon on the issue, while others have not.

The bill would let states require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax on purchases made over the Internet, even if the e-tailer has no physical presence in the purchaser's state.

The bill would allow states to do this but not require them to do so. It would also exempt merchants with online annual out-of-state sales of $1 million or less.

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE contributed to this report.