Thursday, April 22, 2010

iTax protests to create digital headache

There are those who are trying to push the idea that history occurred Wednesday with the tens of thousands of people who showed up outside the Statehouse in Springpatch to express their support for the Pat Quinn-proposed budget balancing plans that include significant tax increases.

I don’t buy it, because I know better. I am very aware of how scripted Statehouse rallies can be. The real tax fight that we should pay attention to may be one that is already taking place. It is the one that people who use the Internet to do their shopping will fight – because they are going to claim that one of their “God-given rights” (I always wondered if their “God” was Bill Gates) is being threatened.

I AM WRITING, of course, about the report in the Chicago Sun-Times that got picked up Wednesday by countless media outlets – one that says the state wants to start applying their sales tax to every single time some kid spends $0.99 on iTunes to buy a song that he then downloads to his iPod.

At the state’s current tax rate, that is about $0.05 per song. But those nickels add up.

They will pile up even quicker for those people who purchase downloads of movies that they can then watch on their computer.

The simple fact is that all those purchases of entertainment by people who prefer to purchase content for whatever electronic device they carry around with them instead of purchasing a physical disc that can be watched over and over and on multiple players (a compact disc or DVD) are going untaxed these days.

THE COMPANIES THAT are selling these downloads contend they are not local companies that should have to worry about parochial taxes. And I’m sure they will argue that it is too complex for them to have to apply the tax rate of every single state or nation around Planet Earth to which they sell their “product.”

What I do know is that the people who prefer buying their entertainment this way consider the lack of taxation to be one of the perks of this method of purchase.

So in the same way that some people think that newsgathering organizations are absurd for thinking that they should be able to charge any kind of fee for access to their websites (“information should be free!,” they will self-righteously argue), they’re going to claim that “taxation” of their downloads of the latest Lady Gaga song or dull-witted Will Ferrell film (although I must admit to enjoying his performance in “Anchorman”) is immoral.

Perhaps the Tea Party types can recruit more members enraged at government for daring to think that a music purchase can be taxed. At least some Republican legislators are going around saying that kids will revolt, and perhaps get their parents to vote against the political people who tried to impose this dastardly deed (heavy sarcasm most definitely intended) of a tax.

NOW I AM not a big fan of taxation (especially after having to compute my tax returns and figure out how much I owe to the government off of my erratic income as a freelance writer). But it is one of those obligations we have to help support our society.

Which is why I think these people are not showing us some legitimate moral cause. They’re just being cheap – like those people who come up with long, convoluted reasonings why they won’t tip the waitress, instead of just reaching into their wallets and coughing up a buck for the woman who busted her butt while serving them a cup of coffee.

I don’t really have a problem with the concept that buying a song off a compact disc is the same as buying one off a digital download, even though officials with TechAmerica Midwest told the Sun-Times they think that an Illinois tax on downloads would inadvertently hurt sales, which would wind up with less-than-anticipated revenues from such a tax.

I might have an easier time buying that line of logic if it weren’t for the fact that Indiana and Wisconsin already have imposed such a tax, as have 17 other states.

SO THE REALITY is that Illinois, instead of somehow threatening to take away the right to untaxed music that these kids think they have, is really lagging behind.

What gives Gov. Quinn?

Why wasn’t this idea looked into before now – a time when our state’s financial problems threaten not only its own operations but those of all the local governments and school districts across the state that rely on state funding to help pay for some of their operations and programs.

I can’t help but think of people who get worked up over this tax as being cheap and ridiculous.

WHEN THEY START flooding Quinn’s office with their e-mails and text messages (probably more of the latter), I’m wondering how outrageous the digital rhetoric will be.

Then again, with the fact that most of the kids who insist on using these as their primary methods of communication can’t spell worth squat, my real question will be whether any of these “complaints” will be at all comprehendable.


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