An Internet Sales Tax to End Homelessness?
The end of homelessness is within reach, if only we had the right funding. That's the line you hear time and again from politicians and activists. Well, two members of the D.C. Council think they may have found the money, in the form of an Internet sales tax.
Today, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh sent a memo to their colleagues outlining a three-pronged approach to ending homelessness in the District. The prongs themselves—dedicate substantial funding, establish a concrete plan with a definite time-frame for success, and create a directorship focused specifically on this issue—are fairly boilerplate, though the directorship would create a more dedicated bureaucratic mechanism for combating homelessness than we currently have. But the source of the funds they propose is novel.
"Right now we have a unique opportunity to fund a transformative investment like this one," Graham and Cheh write. "A bipartisan supermajority of the U.S. Senate is set to approve the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit state sales taxes on Internet purchases. The House of Representatives is expected to swiftly pass it as well. President Obama strongly supports this bill, and it has been endorsed by the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post."
Graham and Cheh refer to a study by economists at the University of Tennessee that found that D.C. lost $35.5 million last year in uncollected Internet sales tax, and they extrapolate that the District is losing $42 million this year and will lose $49 million next year. Compare that to the Interagency Council on Homelessness' recent plan to provide permanent supportive housing to all homeless D.C. residents, which would cost an estimated $53 million per year.
"We propose that we seize this opportunity and dedicate these funds to ending homelessness in the District," Graham and Cheh write. "To that end, tomorrow, we will introduce legislation to accomplish this and invite all members to join us."
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