Mo. Supreme Court upholds use tax law

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Missouri’s use tax law, which allows local governments to tax mail-order purchases at the same rate levied in local retail stores.

Tuesday’s unanimous ruling caps a more than decade-long battle against the use tax.

In May 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Missouri’s 1.5 percent use tax discriminated against interstate commerce, because in some parts of the state it was higher than the local sales tax.

The state Supreme Court then struck down the entire use tax law. The legislature responded with a new law allowing local jurisdictions to charge a use tax equal to the local sales tax rate.

That law was challenged by Kirkwood Glass Co. Inc., which contended it violated the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution because it is possible for shoppers to pay more use tax in one Missouri city than they would pay in sales taxes in another city.

For example, Kirkwood Glass claimed it would pay less sales tax if it bought an item in rural Williamsburg than it would pay in use tax if it bought that same item from an out-of-state vendor and had it shipped to its suburban St. Louis business.

The state Supreme Court rejected that comparison on Tuesday, ruling that a jurisdiction’s use tax can be compared only to the sales tax in that jurisdiction and is fine so long as it is equal or less than that sales tax.

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