Round-Table Discussion With U.S. Rep. Womack
FARMINGTON — The Arkansas Legislature will have the opportunity during its next session to compel out-of-state businesses to collect local sales and use taxes on online sales and Farmington citizens should urge their representatives to pursue such a bill, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack said last week in a round-table discussion at Farmington City Hall.
Womack’s audience mainly consisted of Farmington elected and appointed officials, city staff, police officers and firefighters and a few residents. Womack told them he didn’t have an agenda for the meeting but was open to questions. About 40 people attended the meeting.
“As an ex-mayor, that was the best job I ever had,” said Womack, former mayor of Rogers. “I always like going to cities to see what we can do to help. Anytime, I drive through Farmington, I’m amazed at the growth and development.”
Womack complimented Mayor Ernie Penn for his leadership for the city of Farmington.
Sales Tax On Internet Sales
The one subject Womack said he wanted to talk about was “e-fairness” and he spent quite a bit of time on the history of the subject
and where it is today.
North Dakota filed a case against the Quill Corp., an out-of-state mail-order office equipment company, that it should be compelled to collect the sales and use tax on its orders. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in 1992 that because Quill Corp., did not have a physical presence in North Dakota, it did not have to collect a sales tax on behalf of the state.
“Since I was mayor of Rogers, I’ve argued until I was blue in the face that the Supreme Court decision was ill-advised,” Womack said. “It denied government the ability to collect lawfully due taxes.”
Womack said it shouldn’t make a difference where a sale takes place, whether it is in a building or online. The business should collect the sales tax due on that sale.
All businesses should have a level playing field, Womack said.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court in a separate case, ruled states now have the right to require out-of-state businesses to collect sales and use taxes.
The problem with this, Womack said, is that states are coming up with their own ideas on how to do it. He said he believes the correct way to handle this is through a bill passed by Congress that establishes the same procedure for all states to collect sales tax from online sales.
There’s a bill ready for this but Womack lamented no one from his leadership has taken it up to move it forward. This bill exempts small sellers, would provide software and prohibits states from trying to collect sales taxes retroactively.
“It’s a mess… and it needs to be fixed, but I can’t get my leadership to fix it.”
Turning to those at the meeting, he urged them to reach out to their legislators and tell them “you expect them to honor it and put Arkansas in the position to collect what’s rightfully theirs.”
Womack said legislators will say collecting the local sales tax on an online order is a tax increase.
“Don’t let them tell you, it’s a tax increase, that’s hogwash,” he said. “It’s not a tax increase.”
The legislation would be important to Washington County and to Farmington and would provide revenue for city services, Womack said.
Penn interjected here, noting the city looks for ways to provide more services and taxes collected on online sales would provide revenue to the city for services such as road and street improvements and more police officers and firefighters.
City Attorney Steve Tennant, playing “devil’s advocate,” noted that when Democrats raise a tax, the first thing Republicans say is “a tax is a tax.” He noted that many young people order online because it’s convenient, not to get out of paying the sales tax on the merchandise.
“There’s two sides to this,” Tennant said. “It’s still a tax.”
Womack said he appreciated Tennant’s comments but argued that the current environment is chasing away consumers from purchasing at the counter of a brick-andmortar building and training them to purchase online so that don’t have to pay sales tax.
“We’re condemning the local business,” Womack said, adding this is a major collection issue for the country and is costing billions of dollars nationwide.
Farmington Planning Commissioner Judy Horne asked about partisan politics and what could be done about it.
“It’s sad. This partisanship has got to stop. We’re getting nothing done,” Horne said.
Womack agreed with her that political divisions are hurting the country.
“Do you work with the Democrats?” she asked.
His response was that he believes he does.
“Can you do better?” she asked again.
Womack said he disagrees with Democrats on three fundamental issues. Democrats want to abolish the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), impeach the president and have universal healthcare.
Womack said the president is not going to be impeached and the country cannot afford universal healthcare.
“Abolish ICE? Really?” Womack said.
If Democrats will get off those three issues, Womack said he believes there are ways he can work with them.
But for now, both sides are saying, “My way or the highway,” he said.
Horne thanked Womack for the commitment he’s made to vote on issues in the House of Representatives. Womack said he’s not missed a vote since taking office and has voted 5,400 times in a row. He attributed some of that to luck, noting for example, he had kidney stones and had a death in the family when Congress wasn’t in session.
“You pay me to vote and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Cost & Space For County Prisoners
Washington County Justice of the Peace Robert Dennis, who represents the area around Farmington, asked if there was a way the federal government could help Washington County with the cost of prisoners and the cost to expand the jail.
Dennis, noting that some prisoners are having to sleep on the floor, said that Washington County is “running out of room and running out of money.” It costs the county $62 per day to house a prisoner but it is only being reimbursed about $32 per day from the state.
Womack’s response to Dennis was that the country is “effectively bankrupt” because it has over-promised its citizens.
“We promise our country everything,” Womack said, and the main problem with this is the promise made to senior adults.
Womack said 11,000 people a day are turning 65 years old and going into the social network program.
The cost of healthcare is growing at a faster rate than the economy and is bankrupting the country, he said.
Womack said it is predicted Medicare Part A will run out of money in eight years and Social Security will run out of money in 2034.
“Because of political divisions, Congress cannot develop the courage to take care of these. These are tough decisions,” Womack said.
Getting back to the prison question, Womack said the U.S government builds federal prisons but doesn’t have money for state and county prisons.
The answer, he said, is to look at better options before locking up prisoners, in particular those who are in jail because of addiction issues and mental health problems.
“We are trying to incarcerate the problem away,” Womack said. “An addiction is an addiction. We’re locking up people for immoral failings and addictions.”
The last question from Horne was if Womack in the future would be able to earmark federal funds for local projects.
Womack said earmarks were banned in 2010, with the promise Congress would reform the program. This hasn’t happened yet.
As the Third District representative, Womack said he believes he should know the “real needs” of his district and be able to help those needs.
Taking away earmarks eliminated his ability to work in his district on projects that are necessary, Womack said.
His recommendations to reform the program are to conduct a cost benefit analysis on each project, be completely transparent about the project and that the earmark has to be germane to the bill, not an earmark attached to a bill that doesn’t have anything to do with the project.
Womack thanked everyone for coming and told them if they had an issue with Social Security, Veterans Administration, immigration or other questions to contact his office. He gave credit to his team for helping many people who have contacted him with problems.
Womack said he has one principle he uses when casting a vote.
“Can I come back to Farmington and sit in front of you people and defend it? You may disagree with it but can I defend to you?”
Rep. Steve Womack leads a round table discussion last week at Farmington City Hall. Farmington Mayor Ernie Penn is in the background. About 40 people attended the afternoon meeting held Aug. 21. The House is on recess and returns to regular session Sept. 4.