LANSING (AP) – There soon may be no way to avoid paying the sales tax on Internet and catalog purchases in Michigan as state lawmakers appear poised to consider a bill to collect those taxes.

The legislation would be based on an agreement recently reached by a group of 33 states, including Michigan. It’s intended to create more uniform tax laws so taxes on purchases made across state lines can be more easily collected.

Michigan’s budget woes are giving a boost to the bill, which would bring in an estimated $100 million to $300 million in sales and use tax revenue that now goes uncollected each year, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

However, the national agreement calls for states to pay for some of the collection system, which would include computer software for retailers to report sales tax revenues and which state should collect it.

The agreement would be voluntary for retailers who do business in different states, said Ellen Marshall, spokeswoman for the Streamlined Sales Tax Project.

Simplifying the tax code would make it more attractive for retailers to collect sales tax, state Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton said yesterday.

Many online retailers say it’s too difficult to figure out the patchwork of sales taxes across the nation and make sure the money is collected and sent to the states from which residents are making online and catalog purchases.

Consumers are required to pay sales tax on purchases made online, over the telephone and by mail, but people don’t always pay it and the state doesn’t go after them.

In Michigan, the 6 percent sales tax accounts for 28 percent of the state’s total tax revenue, Stanton said. The sales tax brought in about $6.5 billion last year, he said.

Michigan’s single sales tax rate puts it ahead of other states where officials have to figure out how to collect different local and state taxes to create a uniform system, Stanton said.

“The state is between 80 and 90 percent compliant with the agreement now,” he said. “Some sales and tax statutes would have to be changed in legislation, but we wouldn’t be starting from scratch.”

Under the national agreement, a business would charge the appropriate tax at the time of purchase and then electronically submit the tax information to the state, said Eric Rule of the Michigan Retailers Association.

Proposed legislation may contain some tax credits for retailers to purchase the electronic equipment, he said.

Supporters of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, including Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican House Speaker Rick Johnson, say it would level the playing field between Michigan retailers and out-of-state merchants who sell through catalogs and the Internet.

“The mom and pop stores have been calling me about it,” said Johnson, of LeRoy. “It’s not a new tax, it’s a fairness issue that will help keep some people in business.”

Despite the support of Johnson and Granholm, the bill isn’t likely to receive quick approval from the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Two years ago, the House narrowly approved a bill to allow Michigan to participate in the national group’s efforts to develop a way to collect taxes. A number of Republicans think the bill will mean new taxes and stifle economic growth.

Rep. Leon Drolet, a Republican from Macomb County’s Clinton Township, said the bill may have a hard time in the current Legislature, which he considers more conservative than the one that left office Dec. 31.

Although the state faces a deficit and could use the money, the slow economy is hurting taxpayers as well, he said.

“We don’t need the money, the people need the money to keep the economy going,” Drolet said.

The bill to participate in the national Streamlined Sales Tax Project expired on Dec. 31. Johnson said the House may consider a bill to extend the state’s participation in the group.

Michigan doesn’t need to be in the group to be part of the most recent agreement on collecting sales taxes across state lines. But it may need to be a member to be part of any future agreements.

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