- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah officials are refusing to release details of a tax-collection agreement the state struck with online retailer Amazon.com, claiming that releasing the details would help the company’s competitors.

The Utah State Tax Commission this week denied an open-records request for information about the Amazon.com Inc. deal filed by the Libertas Institute, a Salt Lake City-based group that says it fights for liberty, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday (https://bit.ly/2iF09Gv).

Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts said Tuesday that Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act does not require disclosure of commercial information because such information could give Amazon’s competitors an unfair advantage.

Roberts has said that Amazon will receive the same 1.31 percent of the taxes-collected handling fee that in-state retailers receive for collecting sales tax.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, argues that taxpayers have the right to know what their government agreed to in order to collect a not-legally-required tax.

“After failed attempts to deputize out-of-state-companies as tax collectors for the state, Gov. (Gary) Herbert and the Utah State Tax Commission have somehow persuaded Amazon to voluntarily collect the tax and keep a piece of the pie themselves,” Boyack said.

Boyack said the information should also be public because it involves a large amount of public money. It is estimated that 21 percent of all online sales are made on Amazon.

Boyack said Libertas is discussing the denial with attorneys and will decide soon whether to appeal denial of its request to the State Records Committee.

Under Utah law, internet retailers are required to collect sales tax for online sales only if they have a physical presence in the state, such as a store or distribution center. Otherwise, Utah buyers are required to pay the sales tax themselves by adding it to their annual income tax return, but few do.

Lawmakers have proposed bills to force automatic collection by online retailers, but they have failed due to pressure from online retailers and groups that oppose the effective tax increase.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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