On June 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that internet retailers can be required to collect online sales tax, even in states where they have no physical presence. The landmark decision, South Dakota vs. Wayfair, Inc., reverses a 1992 ruling and can result in a greater revenue source for state and local governments. As explained in this free Avenu webinar held right after the ruling, there are still uncertainties that need to be worked out. Below are highlights from the presentation that inform local government leadership about online sales tax, its revenue potential and what must or may happen before those funds are realized.
It’s been estimated that state and local governments lose nearly $13 billion per year.
Consumers are increasingly choosing the convenience and savings of online shopping. However, if those purchases were made at brick and mortar stores, the sales tax revenue that governments would collect amounts to as much as $13 billion according to the federal General Accountability Office. Having an online sales tax will allow states, cities and counties to collect this money. All governments struggle with pension, operational and other costs, and raising taxes is not an easy option. This makes online sales tax a sound choice under the right circumstances; retroactive tax collection is not permitted.
The ruling includes protections for small online businesses.
The court specified that its ruling was applicable to businesses with more than $100,000 in sales or more than 200 unique transactions per year. This may provide some relief to small, independent online retailers that will have a more difficult time adjusting to a new tax code.
Congressional Action/Implementation Moratorium.
Some stakeholders are advocating for Congress to create a six-month moratorium on sales tax collection to help businesses comply with different state statutes. Therefore, a like outcome is that some states will need to modify their current legislation to comply with the decision. If states enact laws perceived as limiting interstate commerce, then there is a strong chance that Congress will draft a federal standard. There is no timeline for this to happen.
Implementation and Timing.
Several states are issuing guidelines and implementing these new rules, so this will take time. It is still possible that there will be appeals in the lower courts for specific areas of compliance. Localities need to stay vigilant and proactive to ensure they are receiving the revenue they are entitled to.
Download our recent webinar by Avenu Senior Vice President Doug Jensen and Product Developer Eric Myers on how Avenu’s Clearview software can help you recognize and anticipate changes in your jurisdiction’s revenue. Doug highlights all that Clearview can do for your agency, and Eric goes over features such as graphic displays, overlays and real-time data. With this you can easily show your council, mayor and citizens why revenue changes occur and how they affect overall economic performance.
This free presentation will also provide you with an overview of how Clearview can:
In keeping with its history of supporting agencies and municipalities in Texas, Avenu will be sponsoring the Texas City Management Association Conference from June 21-24 in Galveston.
As a silver sponsor of the event, Avenu continues to demonstrate the value it places on local governments and its mission to provide accessible revenue solutions for agencies of all sizes. With this year’s conference theme of “Surviving the Riptide,” Client Executive Brenda Anderson will be on site to provide revenue management insight to attendees and answer any questions about getting your municipality through challenging times.
“Riptides can be intimidating and scary, but if you stay calm they are manageable – just like any budget problems you might face in local government. I’m looking forward to connecting with the cities and counties of Texas to show them that with the right tools, they can survive – or even prevent – these budgetary “riptides” with ease,” Brenda says.
Brenda will be on site all weekend, ready to address your city or county’s compliance solution needs and is eager to help ensure your agency is financially sound. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to meet at the conference.
View or download our recent webinar by Avenu’s Jonathan Gerth, Esq. on how you can get more funding from the franchise fees you collect from utility providers. Jonathan will cover how you can increase compliance with an ordinance review, pending legal challenges that can work in your favor, and how some fees don’t get included in your payments but should.
This free presentation addresses franchise fees from all categories of utilities:
Discussions will also include specific calculations to show what your franchise fee revenue should be!
Tracy Vesely has seen local government challenges from every angle. From revenue challenges in Kern County to legislative coordination of California courts to risk management for various cities, her experience has set her up to offer sound counsel on government operations and finance. We interviewed Tracy about her background and how it fits with Avenu’s vision.
How did you get into local government?
To fund my college education, I worked for a developer in the commercial real estate market. I loved the job and intended to stay in the field after graduation. However, marriage and a move landed me in county government. My start as a budget analyst in a county administrative office began my winding road to finance director. I never looked back. After 27 years I can tell you it was a great decision to stay.
What kept you in local government?
I like to learn, be challenged professionally, and add value to an organization and community. My career in local government has checked all of those boxes. As a finance director I was involved in all aspects of city service delivery and policy, which has deepened my commitment to public service. During a difficult budget year while I was with the City of Berkeley, a community organization that faced funding cuts gave me a paperweight in the shape of a broken heart to remind me of them as we made budget decisions. It remains on my desk 14 years later as a reminder of the importance of public service and stable finances for public agencies.
How does joining Avenu help you fulfill your personal and professional goals? Why Avenu?
I have always enjoyed the diversity of the work in local government. Now, at Avenu, I have a chance to not only work in diverse areas but across numerous cities in several states. It is a more global vantage point, and a chance to bring value across jurisdictions. Avenu’s focus on helping local government deliver stable revenues and plan for the future aligns with my professional experience and mission.
What are the three big challenges facing city finances in the coming five years?
Sadly, there are probably more than three challenges facing city finances. Pension costs are an obvious and very real challenge as they continue to increase and put extreme pressure on public sector budgets, especially in California. Reducing services to fund pensions is not a desirable remedy, so we must figure out a way to control these liabilities in a sustainable way.
Another challenge cities face is the need to replace and improve aging infrastructure. Years of deferred maintenance, especially during the great recession, has pushed our infrastructure to critical levels. Cities will be forced to improve/repair streets, bridges and other infrastructure assets in a significant way in coming years. Many cities are experiencing infrastructure failures and facing fiscal crises to fund these basic needs. As pension and infrastructure costs rise, cities need to maximize their limited revenues.
Unfortunately, a third challenge is that these limited revenue sources are shifting and no longer providing the level of funding that cities need. Sales tax has historically been a reliable source of revenue growth for cities in most states. Changes in the economy, e-commerce, and an obsolete sales tax base are causing dramatic changes in the viability of these revenues. However, it will be interesting to see the impact of the Wayfair Inc. v. North Dakota Supreme Court case outcome.
How does Avenu help local government address these challenges?
Avenu offers software and services that local agencies need to maximize current revenue streams and maintain core services for communities. Avenu partners with cities and counties, using data analytics and expertise to recover tax revenue and assist with elements of tax administration. Raising or creating new taxes is exceedingly difficult, so Avenu can provide opportunities to assist some aspects of public agency operations to save money. For example, Avenu can take over management of the business license process and deliver a web interface that makes it easier for businesses to acquire a business license while reducing the overhead for a city associated with business license management.
As a former finance director, why would your public agency use a firm like Avenu?
Finance directors are pulled in multiple directions at once. It is often difficult to be an expert in a single topic. Avenu provides a partnership that assists finance directors and city managers with recovering and projecting tax revenues, and informing economic development efforts.
What are the key indicators that cities should look at to assess their fiscal health?
Probably the most obvious fiscal indicator is the health of the general fund. Continued deficits and recurring use of one-time/reserve funds indicates a structural deficit. A depleted general fund reserve and the need to use general fund revenues to subsidize other operating funds are also indicators of distress. It is imperative that cities engage in multi-year forecasting models for the general fund and other key operating funds.
With more pressure on city finances the role of the finance director has become more high profile. What are the key traits needed to succeed as a city finance director today?
A successful finance director needs to do it all. Today’s finance director, while a master of fiscal oversight, must move beyond this traditional role and understand almost all elements of city service delivery. A finance director needs to be a strategist and voice of reason who supports the city manager while working to ensure the city’s fiscal stability. This can be difficult when innovation and available resources do not line up. Finance directors are no longer just in the back office. They are a face and voice of the public agency and it is important to be a good public speaker that is able to communicate complex data in an easy to understand manner. Thick skin and an unflappable nature are helpful traits, too.
Hear Fran David, Avenu advisory board member and former city manager of Hayward, California, describe the changing nature of municipal finance and things public administrators need to consider before raising revenue with a tax measure.