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Sen. John McCollister

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha gestures during debate in early April in the Legislature.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha has acquired the signatures of 10 state senators that are required to attempt to summon the Legislature into a special session to enact legislation to begin collecting state sales taxes already owed on online purchases.

But McCollister acknowledged that "it's a long shot to get the 33 signatures" that would then be needed in response to a survey of all of his 48 colleagues to summon the Legislature back to Lincoln to deal with the issue.

"I think we have a fiduciary responsibility to collect the money," McCollister said Wednesday, rather than leave tens of millions of dollars of revenue owed to the state on the table while waiting until next year for legislative action.

McCollister said the state could be forfeiting $30 million to $40 million in needed revenue by waiting, including the huge pool of potential revenue that soon will be available through Christmas season sales.

"This would all change if the governor were more amenable to a special session," he said during a telephone interview.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Pete Ricketts said at a news conference that "I don't see a need for legislation right now."

The path to collection of state sales taxes owed on online purchases was opened last month by a U.S. Supreme Court decision overruling a previous court ruling that prohibited collection of state sales taxes from online retailers that don't have a physical presence in the state.

Nebraska has a law on the books applying the state sales tax to online sales, but legislation providing for collection of the taxes was bottled up in the 2018 legislative session by a filibuster. Ricketts contended at the time that the state should await the pending Supreme Court decision.

Ricketts said Wednesday he wants to wait for completion of the legal work triggered by the court decision that's associated with state law in South Dakota before acting and he said that might not come until the end of August.

"We are evaluating it to make sure we do this right," the governor said. "We want to do it right the first time."

McCollister estimated the state will be forfeiting at least $3 million in monthly revenue while it waits.

If there were a special session, he said, it would be called to center solely on legislation to collect the revenue.

Any proposals for disbursement of that revenue would await the 2019 legislative session, he said.  

Ricketts has proposed the revenue be allocated to local property tax relief; other proposals include sending the money into the state's cash reserve fund or using it to help fund state services and programs that have felt the impact of an ongoing budget squeeze.  

Amazon, one of the giant online retailers, already voluntarily collects the tax on direct purchases made by Nebraskans. But most online purchases by Nebraskans go unreported with no payment of sales taxes owed. 

Even if it's a long-shot proposition, McCollister said, he "probably will go ahead and try to call a special session" to begin collecting the revenue because it is legally owed to the state now.

"It would be irresponsible not to do so," he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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