Tom Luna could use internet tax issue in campaign

He says an Internet sales levy could help fund education programs.

IDAHO EDUCATION NEWSJanuary 17, 2014 

cenarrusa, st. john's, funeral

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, left; former governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus. The funeral service for Pete Cenarrusa, the longest serving elected official in state history, was Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, at St. John's Cathedral in Boise, Idaho. The 95-year-old former Secretary of State died Sunday after battling lung cancer.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

When Tom Luna started talking about new taxes earlier this week, he revisited a recurring theme from his 2010 re-election campaign.

And, perhaps, he took a subtle step toward the November 2014 general election.

Luna renewed a pitch for collecting sales taxes on Internet purchases. This has been a perennial idea around the Statehouse, but no bill has found its way out of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, the conservative panel that gets the first shot at almost every piece of tax legislation.

Speaking not to the Legislature’s tax policymakers but to the Senate and House education committees, Luna tried to tie the Internet tax issue to the $350 million recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force.

“As we move to create a 21st century education system, we must have a 21st century tax code,” said Luna. “We are not going to be able to address the fiscal note of these task force recommendations with the current tax structure we have in place.”

At stake, Luna said, could be $65 million a year — online sales that now go untaxed. Luna contends that the gap is only going to get worse. On Black Friday, sales in brick-and-mortar retailers dropped by 13 percent. The following Monday — Cyber Monday, as it’s known — online sales jumped by 16 percent from 2012.

Proponents have long argued that Internet sales are a matter of fairness, a way of correcting a 6 percent price disadvantage that hurts stores. Luna’s argument raises the fairness issue — he described it as a matter of collecting every sales tax penny due to the state — but focuses on funding education programs.

It isn’t a new argument, at least from Luna.

The state’s superintendent of public instruction says he has supported Internet sales taxes since 2006, when he was first elected. It was certainly a theme when he stood for re-election in 2010, as Idaho schools were in the throes of recession-era budget cuts. Luna argued for the Internet tax during a statewide TV debate and in appearances before newspaper editorial boards.

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