Round-Ta­ble Dis­cus­sion With U.S. Rep. Wo­mack

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

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.

Par­ti­san Pol­i­tics

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.”

Fed­eral Ear­marks

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.

In Clos­ing

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?”

LYNN KUT­TER EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER

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.

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