UT Prof Pushes E-Commerce Tax on Final Firing Line

KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee economist will argue on national television in favor of taxing electronic commerce.

Dr. Bill Fox will be a guest Dec. 17 on “Firing Line”, the weekly public affairs program hosted by political conservative William F. Buckley Jr. The show airs locally at 9 p.m. on Public Television WSJK, Channel 2.

Fox, a UT-Knoxville economics professor, will debate a proposal by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden against taxes on e-commerce. The plan could harm the U.S. economy by giving unfair advantage to some companies, Fox said.

“Failure to tax online sales by companies gives them a tax-preferred advantage, and that always distorts the economy,” Fox said. “It harms businesses that are on Main Street but not on the Internet.

“It reduces revenues to the states, especially in states like Tennessee which have not been home to a lot of Internet firms.”

Other “Firing Line” guests favoring Internet sales taxes will be Harper’s and Newsday columnist Christopher Hitchens, Dallas Mayor Ronald Kirk, and Business Week columnist Robert Klittner.

Opposing taxation will be Buckley, Wyden, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Fox said opponents fear a tax would strangle electronic commerce, hurt overall sales and diminish tax revenues.

“That is a bogus argument,” Fox said. “Forcing customers to pay sales tax for online purchases is in no way going to preclude the enormous gains in sales that companies have been getting over the Internet.”

The Dec. 17 program will be the finale for “Firing Line”, which will go off the air with Buckley’s retirement.

The show began in 1966 and is among the longest running public affairs programs.

Its guests have included U.S. presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.