Custom software tax creates an unfair burden on small businesses
March 18, 2010 · Updated 12:52 PM
As a member of the WTIA and part of Washington’s high-tech community, I am writing to express my opposition to the new custom software tax included in the House version of Senate Bill 6143.
There are more than 2,500 custom software businesses in our state and most of these are small companies, and many are independent and freelance consultants. These companies and their employees already pay more than $150 million in state and local taxes and are held up as the kind of innovation businesses we want to encourage in Washington.
Yet this new tax scheme does just the opposite of encourage. Among the many problems:
— A slippery slope. Custom software has traditionally been considered a “professional service,” similar to attorneys, engineers, management consultants and other similar professions. This tax is a major departure from that classification system and puts us on a slippery slope to tax other professional services.
— New burden on small business. Unlike sellers of digital goods, custom software providers are not set up to take payments from customers by credit card, do not have e-commerce systems, and converting to a sales tax collection system will be burdensome and costly, resulting in frustration and likely business closures.
— Putting economic development at risk. Large customers of custom software companies will surely seek to lower programming costs by going to offshore providers, which could lead to job loss among local custom software providers. Custom software providers may decide to locate themselves in a neighboring state or province, thereby avoiding the burden of being a tax collector for the state, and instead put the burden on the customer to pay use tax, where compliance is traditionally less than for sales tax.
— The language is ill-defined. The technology sector is ever-changing. Is a Web design firm considered a “custom software” provider? Does any service done for a particular customer that uses software to produce that service fall under this provision? Confusion will rein and both the Department of Revenue and taxpayers will have endless discussions and arguments over tax liability.
The challenge before the governor and our Legislators is not an easy one, but this new tax is not the answer.