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That bargain may not be such a bargain after all

That sweater you bought via the Internet might have seemed like a good buy at the time, but was it really?

You might have saved a dollar, maybe $5, maybe even $10. It probably seemed like a really good deal because you didn't have to pay tax.

But in the long run, that could be a pretty costly purchase.

Here's why: Your great bargain is also your neighbor's great bargain, too.

And if everyone in your neighborhood stops buying at traditional stores, state and local governments won't be collecting very much in tax revenue anymore.

State tax Secretary Robin Capehart says West Virginia could see $76 million of losses in tax revenue by 2002 if taxes aren't added to Internet purchases.

How will the state make up for it? You guessed it: Raise other taxes to compensate.

And there's another downside to all this.

If too many people buy certain items over the Internet instead of at traditional, local retailers, those retailers will go out of business. It's simple economics.

We're definitely not in favor of that.

We're all for development of e-commerce, but we also still like the idea of meeting salespeople face to face. And it sure comes in handy to have that kind of arrangement when something goes wrong, doesn't it? Otherwise, it's often a one- or two-hour journey through the lovely world of phone automation, with no guarantee that it will be time well spent.

Anyway, it just doesn't seem fair to have one standard for Internet retailers and another standard for traditional, brick-and-mortar stores.

That's like giving one baseball team a 5-0 lead before the game even starts.

Finally, computers are still, for the most part, a luxury enjoyed by the upper and middle classes. Not having a sales tax on e-commerce thusly puts way too much of a tax burden on Americans who simply cannot afford a computer.

Again, we cannot stress enough that we favor e-commerce. We believe that is the forward-thinking thing to do.

But let's not put the success of cyberspace ahead of all else.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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