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WIN Articles for March 29, 2017

Cashierless stores coming soon

By Jan Teague, President/CEO

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the first ever retail store where you can use your cell phone to check in, then put things in your cart and walk out.

Of course, it will launch in Seattle.  Of course, it is Amazon entering the brick-and-motor store business.  Where are the employee costs that all of the other Seattle retailers will have?  Just imagine the next phase of retail competition: fully automated services without clerks and cashiers.  We have seen this coming from the fast food chains that have automated ordering kiosks.  We heard this coming from Bill Gates a few years ago when talked about the future.

The future is here.

What will this do for those entry-level workers who need a job?  That will be the big social question of the next decade.  Right now, the social issue is providing them with higher wages and great benefits.  This has certainly been evident in Seattle as its City Council marches through a union agenda that raises costs so dramatically that the only answer for business is to cut jobs and automate wherever it makes sense.

How long before it’s prevalent in the retail industry?  It may be faster than we think.  Cell phone technology and applications that perform like wizards are both a major part of the solution that is happening as I write this story.  Amazon is working out the bugs in its concept store, but sometime this year, you will see it in action.  Once that happens, it will be a race to compete and retailers will be motivated by the idea that lower costs can deliver successful sales and the profits retailers need to stay in business.

As more people are looking for work in an ever dwindling job market, the idea of high pay for entry-level work will change. The idea will be to find a job and cherish that it exists at all.


House Democrats release tax-laden budget proposal

By Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs

House Democrats this week released their tax proposal, House Bill 2186, a 79-page budget bill, sponsored by Representative Kristine Lytton (D) Chair of the House Finance Committee.  The proposal adopts and increases several taxes.

The House Finance Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the bill on Monday morning.

The bill would adopt a capital gains tax.  The problem with this is that small independently owned  retailers may sink their life’s work into their businesses – planning to sell someday and retire.  Unfortunately taxing them on that capital gain will severely hurt them.

The bill adds a Business and Occupation Tax surcharge on all businesses.  This will only drag down our fragile economy, especially in the rural parts of Washington.  HB 2186 does raise the exemption threshold for smaller businesses, an idea we do support.

The bill extends the sales tax to bottled water, which is currently exempt.  Bottled water is considered a food item and should not be subject to the sales tax.  Putting the sales tax on bottled water will hurt sales and make the product more expensive for consumers.

The House bill makes the non-resident sales tax exemption a remittance program.  Unfortunately, very few out-of-state customers will go through the hassle of asking the State of Washington for their sales tax back.  In reality, most customers – especially from Oregon – will simply shop in their home states to avoid the tax and inconvenience of waiting to recoup it. This provision will severely hurt all retailers large and small that depend on out-of-state retailers to keep their doors open.

Finally, the bill seeks to require out-of-state remote sellers to collect and remit sales tax or notify and ensure that their customers are paying it.  It is modeled after a Colorado law.  The bill estimates over $300 million in uncollected sales tax.

According to a National Conference of State Legislatures study – they estimate $540 million in uncollected sales/use tax.  WRA members are reviewing the idea before determining a position of support, opposition or neutrality. WRA has long supported a national “marketplace equity” fix to the uneven playing field that was established with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Quill Decision.

I will be at the hearing on Monday to express our position on House Bill 2186.


WRA testifies for small business relief

The online news source The Lens quoted WRA’s Senior VP of Government Affairs, Mark Johnson, during recent testimony on a bill aimed at relieving expensive regulatory burdens on small businesses.

Johnson testified that HB 1120 would strengthen the state’s Regulatory Fairness Act (RFA), passed in 1982 to address negative impacts of state regulations on small business. The House has passed the bill and sent it to the Senate for further consideration.

A recent state auditor’s report found that state agencies were falling short when complying with RFA. The law requires state agencies to assess the financial impacts of regulations on small businesses. Regulators must consider easing bookkeeping requirements, reducing the rate of inspections, adjusting fines and weighing suggestions from small businesses.

Click here to read a story about the hearing.


WRA meets today with legislators to discuss paid family leave

By Tammie Hetrick, Senior VP of Retail Services

 I’m meeting today with key state legislators from the Senate and House to work on acceptable language for a possible bill requiring statewide paid family leave.

As the representative for WRA membership, it is important that any proposed requirements are fair and affordable. My experience working on human resources issues will be helpful in raising awareness that benefits are only smart when they don’t threaten other benefits or the livelihood of a business and their employees.

The working group also has to be careful that any state requirements do not conflict with federal benefits.

WRA is grateful to have a seat at the table of these negotiations. There currently are four pending bills related to paid family leave in the Legislature.

Today’s first of what could be a handful of meetings is meant to iron out differences and come to a fair compromise for further consideration.

California’s long-standing family leave bill is financed 100 percent by employees, as an example. Our negotiating team in Washington State needs to be careful that any outcomes avoid the unintended consequence of harming employee benefits already established.  These benefits vary by company to maintain good employees and allows flexibility for those workers.

I will be reporting on developments of these talks as the 2017 session moves toward the scheduled April 23 adjournment. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments at 360-200-6452 or tammie@retailassociation.org.


Amazon to collect sales tax nationwide starting April 1

Except for five states that do not collect sales tax, Seattle-based online retailer Amazon.com will begin collecting sales taxes in 45 states beginning April 1 of this year.

Unlike other online retailers, Amazon has been adding states to its list of jurisdictions subject to sales tax. Collecting sales tax on online sales has been a controversial subject as online sales volumes have grown.

Traditional stores have been seeking Congressional legislation that would require online sellers to collect sales taxes to help erase a price advantage to shopping online. Amazon’s willingness to collect and remit sales tax revenues to states where purchases are made was hailed by a spokesman for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

“Maine businesses can go toe-to-toe with the very best out-of-state companies, provided they are competing on an equal playing field,” said George Gervais, a commissioner of the Main department. “Amazon’s decision to collect and remit sales tax to the state of Maine is an important first step in leveling the playing field.

States without sales taxes include Alaska, Delaware, Oregon, Montana and New Hampshire.

In 2012, the National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that states lost out on $23.3 billion in revenue due to their inability to collect sales taxes from various online sellers.  Click here to read an updated story about this issue.

Based on a 25-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling, only companies with a physical presence inside a state were required to collect sales taxes. Online sellers frequently sell to customers outside the states where they have a physical presence and do not tack on sales taxes that nevertheless are due.

Efforts continue in Congress to pass legislation requiring more online sellers to collect sales taxes.


Lawmakers reach deadline for policy-related bills

 State lawmakers today are trying to meet a cutoff date for taking final action on policy-related bills during the 2017 session.

A deadline for fiscal bills follows on April 4. Following that cutoff, the Senate and House of Representatives hope to reconcile bills that still are under consideration, including adoption of a new state budget, before the scheduled session adjournment on April 23. Bills deemed related to state budget adoption are not subject to cutoff deadlines.

WRA has testified on and monitored hundreds of bills this session. Here is a summary of the status of key retail-related bills:

  • The Senate has introduced and passed its budget proposal, SB 5607. It calls for spending $43.3 billion in the 2017-19 biennium without introducing new taxes. The proposed House budget of $44.8 billion is HB 2186. It calls for a tax on bottled water, elimination of the out-of-state sales tax exemption, and a capital gains tax. WRA favors the Senate budget version. The Washington Research Council released a chart this week comparing the rival spending plans.
  • The House has passed HB 1506, which is sitting in a Senate committee. It addresses workplace practices to achieve gender pay equity. WRA has serious reservations with the bill language and is opposed to its passage.
  • WRA supports HB 1448 and SB 5835 to provide workplace accommodations for pregnant employees. The Senate has passed its bill but the House bill had not come up for a vote.
  • WRA supports two bills to prohibit commercial property rent control. The Senate has passed SB 5286 and sent it to the House. The House had not taken final action on HB 1082.
  • WRA opposes two bills to raise the legal statewide smoking age from 18 to 21. HB 1054 and SB 5025 would decrease business at convenience stores and drive underage shoppers to tribal shops or out of state.

WRA supports four bills to address and curb organized retail crime. The Senate has passed SB 5632, 5633, 5634 and 5635 and moved them to the House for further action.


Businesses organize to oppose a border adjustment tax

Businesses nationwide are organizing to oppose President Trump’s idea of charging a tax on retail merchandise imported from other countries.

Two meetings to discuss Trump’s proposal were conducted in recent days by the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders’ Association.

Analysts estimate a so-called border adjustment tax would cost average U.S. families an additional $1,700 a year for items they typically buy. It also would cause corporate tax rates to skyrocket.

It is relatively early in the debate as no bill to impose a border tax has yet been introduced in Congress. But the business community is preparing for it because it was among the high profile issues Trump raised during his campaign for the Presidency.

Another fear is that U.S. trading partners would retaliate if the U.S. imposed a tax on goods made outside of the country. Click here for a recent national story on the issue.

Sources include The Hill


New taxes take effect around the state on April 1

New taxes to fund transit, public safety and emergency services are scheduled to go into effect on April 1.

Included are sales tax rate increases in Cowlitz County to 7.8 percent in unincorporated Cowlitz County; 8 percent in Castle Rock; 7.9 percent in Kalama and Woodland; and 8.1 percent in Kelso and Longview.

The complete list on new tax rates is in this special notice. Revenue provides a mobile app for iOS and Android users to find the right sales tax in any location around the state. Download the version from Revenue’s website: http://dor.wa.gov/TaxRateMobile.

To receive advanced notice of local sales tax changes, visit http://dor.wa.gov/listserv and select “sales tax rate changes.”

To read more about the rate changes, visit Revenue’s local tax rate page.


U.S. Chamber praises Trump energy order

President Trump’s latest executive order on energy independence has won praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue issued a statement that Trump’s order aimed at reducing energy prices “is vital to stimulating economic growth.”

The U.S. Chamber has long argued that Obama-era regulations regarding power plants were illegal and hindered U.S. economic development.

A chamber blog post explains Trump’s order in more detail and why it matters to business. The blog maintains that energy growth is pivotal to promoting U.S. economic growth.

Donohue’s complete statement is here. A CNBC interview with the chamber’s Energy Institute President & CEO, Karen Harbert, is here.


Secretary of State Wyman to receive cancer treatment

Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman has announced that she will undergo radiation and chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

She reported that her doctors have told her her cancer is both treatable and curable.

Mark Neary, assistant secretary, is taking over day-to-day operations in Wyman’s absence. For more, see the pi.com.


State wages rank high nationally

As a whole, wages in Washington State rank very high on a national scale.

Kriss Sjoblom of the Washington Research Council was combing a Bureau of Labor Statistics report recently that proves the point.

From it, he reported that:

  • The average weekly earnings for private nonfarm employees in Washington was $1048.73 last year, or the highest in the 50 states. Click here to compare with other states.
  • The state’s average weekly earnings for production workers on manufacturing payrolls was a bit higher, $1,099.07. That ranks third among all the states. Click here to compare with other states.

Source: Washington Research Council


Safety tip of the week:

Get familiar with fire extinguishers

Don’t forget to make sure your fire extinguishers are working and accessible in case of a fire. It’s also a good idea to post a map of extinguisher locations and exit routes from your workplace.

The most common A-B-C extinguisher can be used on all types of fires. It will work on combustible materials, electrical and flammable liquids.  You should check on what your local code requirements are regarding how many extinguishers you need and the recommended height to mount them on walls.

When using an extinguisher to fight a small fire, try to remember the PASS system. It’s an acronym for how to use an extinguisher:

  • P means pull the pin
  • A is for aim at the base of the fire.
  • S is for squeeze the handle.
  • S is for sweeping the contents in a side to side motion.

Check with your local fire department about visiting your office or plant to provide a live demonstration on use of an extinguisher. Such a demonstration should be part of a new hire orientation.

WRA employs Rick Means as a Safety Specialist who is available to members to help draw up safety plans and suggest topics for safety meetings. Contact him at 360-943.9198 x18 or rick.means@retailassociationservices.com.


Register for free April webinars on return-to-work programs

WRA will host two free webinars next month to explain useful return-to-work programs that employers should consider.

The April 5, 10 a.m. (PT) presentation will explain Labor & Industry’s Stay at Work program. It offers financial incentives for state fund employers to assist with returning injured employees to medically-approved light duty tasks.

The April 19, 10 a.m. (PT) presentation will explain the Preferred Worker program. It offers financial incentives to employ workers with permanent work restrictions in medically-approved jobs.

L&I’s Chris Van Eecke will make both one-hour presentations. Register here.


Follow our tweets this sessiontweets

Twitter can be a useful tool in helping WRA’s followers and others to keep up with developments regarding bills under consideration in the 2017 session.

Many followers of the Legislature don’t have the time to attend hearings or have to wait until the next day for the newspaper to arrive. But by following WRA @waretail on Twitter, we alert you ahead of time to key testimony offered by our lobbyists and then follow with live tweets during key hearings and selected voting. We also link you to the full text of bills.

Please follow us on Twitter for retail-related developments throughout the year.


Save money with WRA’s discount shipping partner

FedEx and UPS have higher shipping rates this year.

WRA extends an offer to save money on shipping small packages by singing up with Partnership, WRA’s discount shipping partner.

To enroll and receive exclusive discounts on select FedEx® services, visit PartnerShip.com/99WRA. For more information, email sales@PartnerShip.com or call 800-599-2902.

Learn more about how the 2017 rate increases will affect your shipping costs by downloading a free research paper at PartnerShip.com/RateIncrease.

Source: Partnership


WRA diversity statement

It’s essential to have a holistic strategic plan for diversity and inclusion.  We encourage everyone to consider having a plan that connects with diverse people, creates a diverse workforce, fosters an inclusive work environment where different perspectives are valued, partners to share time, talent, and resources with our staff and with communities, and communicates these values with others.

In principle and in practice, we value access to leadership opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, appearance, geographic location, or professional level.  The association strives to accomplish this by serving as a model where we are working to help our staff, our volunteer leaders, our members, and our community embrace these principles.

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