Joining Santa and the State on the Internet

If you're doing your Christmas shopping on the Internet, you're not alone. It's a record year for e-shopping.

Of course, it's buyer beware ... beware of Internet scams, which the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs office has already warned shoppers about. But then, we should all be aware whenever we use our credit cards to shop, in cyberspace or in person.

Face it, the Internet is here, and it'll be here for awhile. Had you even heard about it a year ago? Two years ago? Bought anything on the Internet? Called up a web page (like celehahn.org)?

The Commonwealth is into the Internet in a large way, allowing you to renew your automobile registration for example. Or getting information on legislation pending. Seeing pictures of all the Senators and Representatives (www.state.ma.us). See the deadbeat of the month.

There's even a The.commonwealth campaign. Go to The-dot-commonwealthmass-dot-com (remembering those two "dots" are periods in e-talk). There, you'll find the state's efforts to raise awareness of Massachusetts as a center for technology leadership and innovation.

But all the e-trade affects the state in its pocketbook, as well. Because things bought on the Internet are not taxed in Massachusetts. So, the state loses its five percent on that $100 purchase. Only five dollars you ask? But I'm told there will be $12-billion in Internet sales across the country this holiday season alone.

Can the country tax Internet sales? Can just one state? If we don't tax Internet sales, is it fair to our local merchants on Elm and Main Streets?

Is this different from catalog sales, which are not taxed unless the store has an outlet in the state the purchaser resides in. (State sales taxes, by the way, have been around only since the depression, when Mississippi became the first state, in 1930, to have one. Now, only New Hampshire, Delaware, Oregon and Montana lack a sales tax.)

Is sales tax important to Massachusetts? Yes. It provides somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of our state's revenue each year. The Internet does, indeed, impact each of us then. As taxpayers.

But, I hasten to tell you, unfortunately, that your legislature is not in the forefront of technology. Oh, we're ready for Y2K, I'm told. For day to day usage, however, we're lagging behind other states, where legislators have laptops on their desks in the House chamber and where they can, during debate, actually see and read, on screen, proposed legislation and amendments.

And, they can actually access the Internet. Unlike their counterparts in the Massachusetts State House. Yes, we have a way to go.

On the up side, our constituents can easily access us, through e-mail (cele@celehahn.org or rep.celehahn@hou.state.ma.us). And, it allows us to provide a quick reply. Instant reply.

During our belated budget deliberations I received an uncounted overload of e-mails asking me to support specific veto overrides, for example. On an average day, I get e-mails relating to major issues as well as minor, from banning greyhound racing and legalizing tattooing to teacher retirement and hospital supports. Well, you name it, I get it. And, I might add, I read it all.

Constituents can also access information on bills pending before us, legislation passed, state spending, laws and rules and regulations. Almost anything the state is involved in.

For example, want information on the MCAS scores? Go to www.doe.mass.edu/mcas. From there, you can find out almost anything you want to know about education in the Commonwealth.

I could give you a laundry list, or an e-list, of state sites. But you'll enjoy exploring yourself. And, if you can't find something you want, just ask. And I'll try to track it down for you.

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