The de facto sales-tax exemption that online retailers received years ago under federal law has long been a sore point for Massachusetts policymakers who pine for foregone dollars, and for bricks-and-mortar retailers who labor under a built-in price disadvantage. Fortunately for Massachusetts, the mega-retailer Amazon.com is making things simple by launching an office in Kendall Square and buying the robot company Kiva Systems in North Reading.
Under federal law, a state can only force e-commerce sites — or mail-order companies, for that matter — to collect its sales taxes if those firms have a physical presence in its borders. Governor Patrick has been coy on the subject; the governor has suggested that, under state and federal laws, his administration is only permitted to ask the retailer to collect Massachusetts taxes voluntarily. But the Commonwealth can fairly demand that Amazon do just as other retailers do — charge sales taxes on the goods that Massachusetts residents buy.