Reporting from Sacramento — A coalition of health, welfare and social services advocates is calling for a boycott of Amazon.com Inc. until the Internet retailer drops a referendum to repeal a new law requiring it to collect sales taxes on Californians' purchases.
At a news conference Monday on the steps of the state Capitol, the Think Before You Click campaign asked shoppers to cancel accounts with the Seattle-based company. The group has launched a website, ThinkBeforeYouClickCA.org.
"The $200 million in annual revenue that California loses each year through Amazon's tax loophole would have been enough to prevent the $90-million cut from California's Adult Day Health Care program," said Nan Brasmer, president of the California Alliance for Retired Americans.
Campaign participants include Health Access, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the California Immigrant Policy Center, and the California Partnership, which deals with seniors' health issues.
According to the state's tax collection agency, the Board of Equalization, California fails to collect about $1 billion a year in sales taxes from Internet purchases. As a result, online sellers such as Amazon and Overstock.com enjoy a significant price advantage over retailers that operate brick-and-mortar stores and collect sales tax that is remitted to the state.
Amazon is refusing to comply with a new law that requires online retailers to collect sales taxes, calling it unconstitutional and a barrier to interstate commerce. The company is gathering signatures for a proposed referendum that would ask voters next year to overturn the sales-tax law that took effect July 1.
Amazon should not be allowed to flout the California law at a time when billions of dollars in social, health, welfare and education spending have disappeared, activists said.
"Over the last four years, California has cut more than $15 billion from essential healthcare and human services programs. These cuts have cost our state much-needed jobs and have shifted responsibility for balancing the budget deficit onto the backs of the state's most vulnerable residents," said Jessica Lehman of Community Resources for Independent Living, which provides assistance to the disabled.
"In that same time, Amazon.com and other online retailers have made billions in profits. If Amazon is not willing to contribute to California, then why should we continue to contribute to Amazon?"
A spokesman for Amazon's referendum campaign did not address the boycott campaign. But Ned Wigglesworth of More Jobs Not Taxes criticized the California law for its potential to kill Internet-related "jobs when we need them for our economic recovery."
Boycott efforts toward Amazon might have trouble gaining wide public support, said industry analyst Jordan Rohan of Stifel Nicolaus in New York City.
"I'm not sure if the emotional appeal is enough to keep people from saving money," he said. "I don't know how much traction they're going to have on that."
Times staff writer Andrea Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.