One of the hardest propositions for conservatives to remain consistent on is the issue of federalism. We believe in federalism. We believe that the Constitution enshrined power to the states through the Tenth Amendment. We believe that that power has been eroded away through the years and want it restored.
The hard reality of our position is that some states may seek to push positions that we believe threaten liberty. Conservatives have lauded efforts by Arizona to protect their borders consistent with federal policies and Missouri’s effort to nullify ObamaCare. But many have blasted California for essentially legalizing medical marijuana and New Hampshire’s effort to block a national ID card.
The hard part about federalism is facing the reality that some states will do things we don’t agree with. We need to learn to support those efforts and remain consistent. Limiting federal power should be our ultimate objective.
Recently a number of states—including some of the nation’s strongest conservative governors– have undertaken an effort to overturn federal restrictions on the states collecting sales tax from the sale of online goods. And they have a point.
Despite our opposition to taxes, this is another example where federalism should triumph.
Constitutionally, the implementation of sales tax falls under the purview of the states—even when we dislike the taxes the states choose to implement. And current law is a clear abrogation of states’ constitutional authority. It is equally clear that In addition to abrogating states’ rights, current law creates a bias towards online retailers like Amazon.com at the expense of Main Street businesses.
Congressman Steve Womack (R-Arkansas) has introduced tax fairness legislation that would allow states to collect sales tax for purchases made online. Opponents argue that Womack’s bill would unconstitutionally require out of state businesses to collect and remit taxes to states with which the business has no connection. This seems like a valid criticism. But even valid criticism of the proposed bill does not justify ignoring and leaving in place the infringement on states rights and the bias caused by current law.
That is why some have begun discussing other ways to fix the problems with current law. Notably, conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise institute has offered an origin-based model that would return rightful power of the states and avoid the cross state line constitutional issues.
But whatever the final language becomes, the impact should be the same—restrict federal powers and get Congress out of the business of picking winners and losers to let the marketplace sort things out.