Maybe the recently shuttered Borders bookstore chain did not perish in vain.

After years of wrangling between online retailers and states uncertain about how to collect sales taxes from Internet transactions, a welcome breakthrough has arrived — though it’s too late to help Borders.

Legislation spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is drawing bipartisan support, and we hope it takes the fast track on Capitol Hill. It embodies compromises that should make it attractive to all sides in this long-running dispute. Online retail giant Amazon gives the measure “strong support,” though rival eBay still opposes it for now.

We think we know how Borders would have lobbied, had it not liquidated this year. The book retailer’s management deserved blame for strategic blunders that ultimately sank it. But the company also came under pressure from online competitors that could offer the same merchandise as Borders but without collecting sales tax.

That advantage reaffirmed the Internet as an effective marketplace but also exposed the unfair edge that the Amazons of the world have over brick-and-mortar businesses. Multiply those factors nationwide and you see why state governments lose nearly $10 billion a year in sales taxes that aren’t collected on online purchases.

No one likes paying taxes. But everyone should be assessed fairly. For the record: Consumers making online purchases always have been obligated to pay sales tax to their state. Illinois recently tried to collect it by putting a special line on the state tax form for self-reporting how much taxpayers owed for their purchases.

Didn’t work too well. As a practical matter, the money needs to be collected by online merchants at the time of the transaction — the same way brick-and-mortar stores have done for generations.

Durbin’s Marketplace Fairness Act replaces his earlier Mainstreet Fairness Act, which we also supported. The new version has a broader exemption for small operators: Companies with less than $500,000 in online sales won’t have to collect taxes.

That’s an extraordinary concession to the online sales industry, considering how every storefront up and down Main Street is stuck charging sales tax no matter how tiny its revenues. The only justification for that exemption is the technologically antiquated idea that online startups would be snuffed out by the complications of collecting different taxes in the many jurisdictions where they operate.

Fortunately, the bill addresses those complexities. States that want online merchants to collect sales tax would need to adopt rules that streamline and simplify collection practices, if they haven’t already. No state would be required to comply, and some may decide to continue giving online merchants a sales-tax pass.

Durbin and his co-sponsors have made this legislation about as friendly to e-commerce, and as respectful of state tax sovereignty, as it can get. Now they need to pass the bill.

They will be helped in that effort by the precedent set in Illinois, where Gov. Pat Quinn and the General Assembly this year approved legislation that confronted the Internet retailers head-on.

It was a brave stand in the face of Amazon’s threats to shutter its local business affiliates.

Because the federal government has jurisdiction over interstate commerce, a nationwide solution to this tax problem always made the most sense. Now we’re on the verge of getting one.

To Durbin’s colleagues in Congress: Remember Borders — and your constituents who used to work there (and, ahem, dutifully collect sales tax from shoppers). Then pass the Marketplace Fairness Act.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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