BEFORE settling on Seattle as the home of Amazon.com, the founder, Jeff Bezos, considered placing the company on an Indian reservation near San Francisco. “This way, we could have access to talent without all the tax consequences,” he said in a 1996 interview with Fast Company.
The reservation couldn’t be used as a sales-tax haven, after all, Mr. Bezos said he learned, so he had to look elsewhere. Offering prices free of sales tax to customers in California, the most populous state, would be possible only if the company were placed elsewhere. “You have to charge sales tax to customers who live in any state where you have a business presence,” he said then.
Today, Amazon collects sales tax in only five states, which gives it a continuing advantage over companies who do collect them in all or most states. Competitors aren’t the only ones hurt by Amazon’s stance on sales taxes: it also means the loss of considerable revenue to states and localities that badly need it.
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