By MATT BLOIS
The Williamson County School Board discussed a resolution that would have asked state legislators to give a portion of the sales tax on internet purchases back to schools.
At a work meeting on Thursday night, many board members expressed support for the idea. But without unanimous backing the board decided not to put it on the agenda for its meeting next week.
Board member Eric Welch introduced the idea because he said sales at brick and mortar stores are slowing down while internet sales continue to increase.
“A large portion of our budget is funded by sales tax, and … despite a robust economy in a growing community our sales tax revenue was down,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we have a funding gap.”
He wants to see internet purchases treated the same way as sales at a physical store. He said the shift from brick and mortar store to online retailers like Amazon is going to chip away at local sales tax revenue. He thinks it is critical to find a way to deal with that problem.
Welch’s proposal would have just encouraged legislators to address the problem. The board didn’t vote on that resolution at the meeting.
In Tennessee, the state sales tax for most retail items is seven percent. Williamson County adds 2.75 percent on top of that. Half of the county’s sales tax funds the school district.
With internet sales, though, it’s not always clear where a customer is located when he or she buys something. Internet retailers normally send the local portion of sales tax to the state of the buyer. Then, the state redistributes that money back to cities.
That means the school district doesn’t get the portion of sales tax it would have received if someone bought that item at a retail store in the county.
Board member Sheila Cleveland said she fully supported finding more money for schools. However, she worried that asking for a portion of the tax money from internet sales would take revenue away from cities. She said the cities in Williamson County have worked well with the district and she didn’t want to support something that would hurt their interests.
As the Tennessee General Assembly gets closer to finishing its legislative session, some board members said it was important to get a resolution out quickly. But Cleveland worried that the board was moving too fast.
After some discussion, Welch said he didn’t want to put the resolution on the agenda without unanimous support. At the end of the meeting, he said he wanted to get more information about the resolution before placing it on the agenda.
Even if it never makes it to an official agenda, Deputy Superintendent Jason Golden said there was value in discussing the idea. He said school districts will eventually have to address the problem of flatlining sales tax revenues because they represent an important part of their funding.
“There’s value in the public seeing these are really serious ongoing issues,” he said. “This issue isn’t going away.”