Words lose true meaning in legislative battle

I have spoken before about the idea that if you control the definition of something, you manipulate how it’s viewed and its affect on the person hearing the description. So “terrorist” becomes “freedom fighter” and religious zealots become “troubled.”

Submitted for your consideration, the word “fair,” as used by modern progressives when discussing policy. The everyday definition of the word implies “free from favoritism, self-interest or bias,” but that’s not what is meant by progressives discussing fairness and public policy.

Their interpretation is of some sort of leveling, generally by hobbling the swift to obtain the short-term support of the slow. Next, they remove money or power from the successful, extract most of it for themselves and sprinkle the residue over their supporters.

What makes them most upset is when the victim fights back, as we recently have seen in the case of Amazon.com and the tax collector.

Most of you know the Legislature, in trying to extract more operating capital from the population, has determined that Colorado affiliates of online retailers like Amazon and Overstock.com should be forced to collect a sales tax on goods that were purchased through their Web sites, which serve as a conduit for the national online retailers.

Amazon told the Legislature it felt the scheme was not a constitutionally permitted way to extract taxes from an out-of-state retailer and conservative lawmakers cautioned that the move would cost Colorado citizens jobs and revenue. But the majority passed the bill anyway.

Amazon did as it had warned and severed ties with all Colorado affiliates. In its letter to those affiliates, Amazon stated “as we repeatedly communicated to Colorado legislators, including those who sponsor and support the new law, we’re not opposed to collecting sales tax with a constitutionally permissible system applied evenhandedly ... if Colorado would repeal the current law or follow the constitutional approach to collection, we would welcome the opportunity to reinstate Colorado-based associates.”

The predictable squawking from the left began immediately. One of the bill sponsors, state Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder, commented to The Denver Post that “this bill is about fairness and creating an equal playing field for every business that does business in Colorado.”

This is, of course, ridiculous since Amazon has no stores in this state and has not availed itself of roads, police, fire or other services. It exists mainly as a taxable target for legislative sharpshooters. And don’t forget that any income that in-state affiliates might make will already be taxed as income to those individuals and companies.

How is such legislation even remotely connected to the concept of fairness or its cousin, a level playing field? What benefit does an online retailer, with no physical presence in the state receive from paying or having its affiliates collect a state tax — supposedly levied to maintain the supporting infrastructure of local commerce?

An online retailer trades cost and sometimes selection for the local seller’s advantage of personal interaction and immediate supply. There is no level playing field issue. It is a contest between merchandising style and consumer preferences.

Perhaps the Legislature should tax large local companies who achieve a price break by buying in bulk because this also must be unfair.

In the future, if legislators think we deserve to be taxed and they deserve the money, they should just announce that and not manipulate the language. Gov. Bill Ritter’s take on this was to say “Amazon’s position is unfortunate, and Coloradans certainly deserve better.”

He’s more right than he knows.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong, which can be reached through the blogs entry at GJSentinel.com.


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