Editor’s note: Cong. Steve Womack (R) represents Arkansas’ Third Congressional District. He was first elected to Congress in 2010 and serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is on the Majority Whip team.

Today, in the state of Arkansas, if you buy something online and the retailer does not collect the sales tax, current state law requires you to pay that tax to the state yourself. That’s the law! As a consumer, it is your responsibility to make sure that you have paid it. And every year, you are supposed to get a form from the state, calculate the tax, and send in a check for the amount you owe. That’s confusing and burdensome, and let’s be honest, even though not doing so is tax evasion, very few people are going to save up receipts all year to send in their unpaid sales tax.

By giving online-retailers like Overstock a free pass from collecting Arkansas sales tax, Washington, D.C. is giving out-of-state companies an artificial leg up over our local retailers. Main Street retailers are competing at a terrible disadvantage, and it’s simply not right. In a true free market, government shouldn’t pick winners and losers by giving preferential tax treatment to one kind of marketplace over another. I didn’t support that kind of government interference in the free market when the Obama administration was peddling tax credits to subsidize “green energy,” and I won’t support it in this instance either.

Free markets and fair competition are the hallmark of our economic strength and vitality as a nation, and the time to fix this inequity is now. I am a proud sponsor of legislation that would accomplish this called the Marketplace Fairness Act.

My bill to restore free-market competition is often mischaracterized by eBay and its cohorts who want to preserve their artificial price advantage over Arkansas retailers. They’ve even duped some into believing that collecting these taxes – taxes that are already legally owed – equates to a tax increase. That’s nonsense. I’m a proud conservative and have always stood for lower taxes and limited government. But in my book, protecting special-interest loopholes and encouraging tax evasion isn’t conservative; it’s foolish.

By giving these giant online sellers special tax preferences, we are eroding the sales tax base for the state of Arkansas and our cities and counties. That means you and I make up the difference to ensure we can continue to count on basic public services like schools, roads, and police and fire protection, on which we all depend, regardless of where we shop. To fund these services and keep taxes low, we should rip out the special treatment and loopholes and require all of our retailers to play by the same rulebook.

The Marketplace Fairness Act does not raise taxes, and it will ensure true free market competition both online and on Main Street. Ask any small business what it wants from Washington, and it’ll tell you it just wants an honest chance to compete without government interference. The Marketplace Fairness Act ends government interference in the free market, and that’s something all conservatives should welcome.

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