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Senate wants to tax your online shopping and Netflix-binge habits #InternetFreedomAct

The intent of the Internet-related legislation is to keep states from enacting new taxes on Internet access. However, the Senate is proposing an Act that would give states the option to tax “remote businesses” i.e. online retailers selling within states’ borders.

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Keeping states from enacting Internet taxes

The inclusion of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 had shown some promise when we reported on this critical moratorium a few weeks ago. The intent of the Internet-related legislation is to keep states from enacting new taxes on Internet access.

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However, the Senate removed the supporting language from the trade bill and included it instead in the omnibus spending package that passed both the House and Senate on December 18, 2015.

Senate proposing tax for online retailers

The moratorium on new taxes for Internet access has been extended until October 2016. While the White House has shown support for the legislation, through the President’s repeated statements in support of net neutrality, it’s the Senate that is prolonging the stopgap. Specifically, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R – Tenn.), who also wants a vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act, of which he is the lead co-sponsor.

The Act would give states the option to tax “remote businesses” i.e. online retailers selling within states’ borders.

Interestingly enough, the White House has been in favor of Alexander’s legislation, with an endorsement via former White House press secretary Jay Carney as reported by The Hill in this 2013 article. Carney spoke then on “the need for federal legislation to level the playing field for our businesses and address sales tax fairness.”

Leveling the playing field

The debate stems from the impact to various parties from consumers to retailers. The legislators in support of a remote business tax have stated that the law will create a level playing field for brick and mortar retailers, providing much needed revenue to states in need.

The opposing view believes that consumers will bear the cost through discriminatory taxes at the state and local levels.

Taxing your Netflix-binge habit

The concern about discriminatory taxes seems well-founded with Chicago’s July 1, 2015 creation of the 9% “amusement tax” that affects entertainment both in person and electronic delivery. Charges are required to be paid for the privileges of “watching electronically delivered television shows, movies or video,” as well as “listening to electronically delivered music” and “participating in games, online or otherwise.”

The code states that the amusement tax applies only to rentals, and not “permanent” downloads. This local ordinance mostly impacts streaming online services including iTunes, Netflix and Hulu.

Amazon calls for streaming tax

Interestingly, online sales giant Amazon has long supported this legislation as evidenced by this 2013 article from The Hill, stating that “Amazon argues that a single national framework for tax collection is preferable to a patchwork of state laws.” Amazon’s greatest online rivals including eBay and Overstock who don’t have a physical presence in the number of states that Amazon does.

Amazon has been collecting sales taxes in those states where they have a physical presence, including Illinois as of February 1, 2015, and Michigan on October 1, 2015.

On an intriguing side note, former Obama administration press secretary Jay Carney was hired by Amazon in February of 2015 as senior vice president of global corporate affairs.

His position includes oversight of public policy and public relations.

Streaming tax goes largely unreported in state returns

In states that require state income tax returns, consumers have been required to self-report that tax. According to this Detroit Free Press article, Michigan state officials estimated that “only 2.5% of what was really due” was reported for untaxed online purchases in the 2013 tax returns.

States’ rights vs. Net neutrality

Whether Senator Alexander holds true to his principles of the past or will sacrifice net neutrality for states’ rights will play out over the next ten months. Keep in mind that Alexander stated in these remarks from November 7, 2003, on the Internet Tax Moratorium of  “no taxation of Internet access” and that “virtually all of us are willing to keep state and local governments from taxing Internet access.“

Many economists are skeptical, and even accusing Alexander as well as Senate Democrat whip Dick Durbin of holding the ITFA hostage for the sake of their own agendas. National Review economist Stephen Moore pointed out the hypocrisy of some of Durbin’s statements in his article. “… Now the man who says the Internet should be universally available and affordable hypocritically wants to tax it to make it less affordable. The primary victims, if Senator Durbin’s eleventh-hour tax gambit succeeds, will be poor households…”

Indeed, having access to the Internet has moved well beyond being a luxury to being a convenience for all users, regardless of their income and tax bracket.

#InternetTaxFreedomAct

Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anakai

    February 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    I guess that Constitution thingy that all those guys like to love on so much suddenly becomes irrelevant when it comes to picking your pocket.

    Section 1, Article 9.5:
    “No tax or duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.”

    Reading is evidently not a required skill for electing people to positions of authority that control millions of people.

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Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45-minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well, and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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