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Sununu promises executive action against internet sales taxes



Monitor staff
Thursday, August 23, 2018

A month after members of the Legislature killed a bill to address internet sales tax requests in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu is promising executive action.

In an announcement Thursday, Sununu said the Department of Justice will devote resources to assisting businesses dealing with a Supreme Court decision that many fear will open up New Hampshire businesses to out-of-state sales tax burdens. But absent legislative action, the options available are modest.

In June, the Supreme Court reversed previous rulings that had explicitly prevented out-of-state jurisdictions from demanding sales taxes from businesses that ship online. Now, businesses in states without sales taxes – like New Hampshire – could be exposed to sales tax collection requests if they ship to those jurisdictions.

An attempt in July to defend against those requests by introducing statutory roadblocks for the jurisdictions came up short, after the House overwhelmingly voted to strip down a bill endorsed by the governor. Members of the House and Senate expect new efforts to be introduced next legislative session.

In the meantime, the Department of Justice “has dedicated resources” to help any businesses that are served collection requests, Sununu said. New Hampshire businesses are urged to call into the Consumer Information Line; the department will then determine whether the request is legitimate or a scam. An accompanying web page, nheconomy.com/nosalestax, lays out the new legal reality for the businesses.

But while the new policy allows the department to gather information on collection requests and investigate scams, it won’t on its own prevent legitimate requests. Under present New Hampshire law, the Attorney General may not represent businesses in court unless it involves a compelling state interest. The July bill would have provided that authority; in lieu of that, the department is urging businesses to consult their own tax attorneys.

A top Democratic senator, Dan Feltes, dismissed the announcement as window dressing. “Governor Sununu’s meaningless executive actions don’t protect taxpayers,” he said. And he took a swipe at the governor’s decision to leave the state and attend a Colorado fundraiser during the July 25 special session.

But Sununu argued the new practices would help support businesses until more robust legislation can be introduced next session.

“The actions announced today are important steps that the Executive Branch can take while we continue to push for legislative action,” he said in a statement.