Housing Complex

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."

Image via Shutterstock

  • Typical DC BS

    Yes, the DC government crooks, and two failing newspapers (the Times and Post) both endorse another government boondoggle to waste taxpayers money and provide the homeless housing. What could go wrong? If it's run like the other social welfare programs in DC, you can bet big that it will have more than it's share of idiocy, in that we'll be subsidizing more people with poor supervision by government workers who are supposed to be monitoring progress by another group of citizens who never seem to leave the public dole unless they are supervised properly - which, of course, happens all the time ("NOT") in DC.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AdamLDC Adam L

    Graham and Cheh have their hearts in the right place, but the District should not move forward with any big plans until there is a regional solution to homelessness.

    While the District may be able to "provide permanent supportive housing to all homeless D.C. residents" we won't be able to accommodate all the other people in the region who need help. We already know that other jurisdictions are referring people to D.C. social services and I can envision that becoming more of an issue as the city adds greater resources.

  • megan

    Once again, another tax, just when we found something besides the air we breathe that we don't have to pay a tax on. And just like every other tax, they are looking for a hook to somehow make it palatable. It is not. The kind of money that would come in would be partially chewed up by "administrative" costs. The real loser in all of this is the middle income wage earner who doesn't make enough to afford yet another expenditure. The rich don't worry about it and the poor get the benefits--some do it for life. The internet tax is a bad idea and I hope the Republicans block it. I hope Ebay blocks it. I hope Amazon blocks it. I don't begrudge help for people who have fallen on hard times. I just want to see it become a bridge rather than a long, long, road that all too many never lift a foot to get off of.

  • Taxnerd

    It doesn't look like this tax is going to pass the House of Representatives, so this all seems a little premature.

  • Actually

    The States of Maryland and Virginia wholeheartedly support DC's efforts to house more of the entire region's homeless population, at the sole expense of District taxpayers.

  • anons

    Gee, as if the 1.5 billion District taxpayers spent last year on "Human Services" wasn't enough, we need to find something new to tax?

    If DC was serious about the "homeless" problem, they might have dedicated some of the 720 million in budget surpluses collected over the past 3 years. But no...

    And I've always known the Council was filled with people who couldn't think past the end of their own nose, but the so called revenue the District is losing out on, won't exist if the law is passed. Why? Because online shopping will no longer be the cheapest alternative. Once they start charging sales tax, it will be like buying it at any old regular store, the volume of online sales goes down and all of a sudden that ~49 million a year their wide greedy eyes had fixated on, goes down to 10 million a year. Whoops...

    In the meantime, the Council will have built a program based on the ~49 million a year they "thought" they would get, and the District taxpayer has to make up the difference from the general fund.

    End result, DC has yet another high end entitlement program and less money to pay for it.

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  • Wilhelm Ogle

    It will be extremely easy to avoid the DC sales tax. Just have the item sent to a friend in Virginia. One will still have to pay a sales tax, but it will be cheaper.But most Iimportantly, it will not be available to the thieves that run DC.

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  • Alf

    It is not an accident that Councilmember Mary is also known as "Comrade Che(h)."

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