MJI files Ethics Commission complaint over Dept of Revenue refusal to disclose Amazon agreement
February 17, 2017
(JACKSON, MISS - FEBRUARY 17) - Today, the Mississippi Justice Institute (MJI) filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission following a refusal by the Department of Revenue (DOR) to make available public documents related to a voluntary agreement between that agency and the online retailer Amazon. The agreement, as first disclosed in public statements by Department of Revenue officials, appears to provide for Amazon to collect use tax from online purchases from Mississippians and remit those taxes to DOR. DOR officials have publicly spoken of negotiations between the agency and Amazon.
"Mississippi law requires government transparency and accountability. As taxpayers, the public should be allowed to know the details of our state agencies' agreements and contracts with outside entities - in this case a billion dollar corporation collecting taxes on behalf of the state. These details are particularly important because they involve an issue with current active legislative debate and recently completed but not yet enacted rulemaking by the Department of Revenue. The state is making policy on this issue without revealing public information which could inform the citizens," said Mike Hurst, director of MJI.
Hurst continued, "The Department of Revenue denied our open records request citing confidentiality of required tax records. But the agreement isn't a required tax record because this is a voluntary agreement. Under existing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Department of Revenue cannot require an out-of-state company with no physical presence in Mississippi to pay a use tax. There is no exemption to Mississippi's transparency laws which allows the Department of Revenue to deny review of these public records, so we have appealed their refusal to the Ethics Commission,"
Hurst noted several questions the information requested might answer.
Has the state agency obligated taxpayers to any agreement?
Did DOR agree with Amazon that, in exchange for voluntarily collecting these use taxes for DOR, DOR would promulgate regulations attempting to codify the application of use taxes to other out-of-state companies?
Did DOR structure the agreement at Amazon's request to give Amazon a competitive advantage over competitors?
Did DOR agree to give Amazon some kind of benefit for voluntarily coming forward and agreeing to collect use taxes for DOR? If so, what are the details of that contract between a state agency and a collection company?
Did DOR agree to shield third-party sellers on Amazon's platform from collecting use tax?
The Mississippi Justice Institute represents Mississippians whose state or federal Constitutional rights have been threatened or violated by government actions. It is the legal division of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. To learn more about MJI, visit www.msjustice.org.