Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The measure of the tax is as significant a problem in sales taxation as is assessment in ad valorem property taxation or the determination of net income for income taxation. It is the base for taxation.

Sales taxes are creations of state statutes. The appendix presents a general summary of these statutes to show their provisions. Separate state excise taxes on cigarettes or spirits are not included within the scope of this paper, nor are taxes on selling, storing or distributing motor fuels or oils. These excises present special problems, as do separate taxes on extraction, oil drilling and mining. Only when these problems arise under a general sales tax will they be discussed here. Many sales taxes are inextricably tied to license or privilege taxes. If such a tax applies to broad areas of sales transactions, to several industries which are not confined to a specialized category, the tax will be considered herein. No attempt has been made in this paper to consider sales taxes imposed by the United States federal government, by any of its territories, by other nations or by their political subdivisions. Nor has attention been given to local taxes imposed by cities, counties, or townships except as these are an integral part of sales taxes which are uniform throughout the state.

No discussion of property taxes, ad valorem taxes on intangibles, or net income taxes can be presented within the limits of this paper, even for purposes of analogy. General privilege or license taxes which vary directly in amount according to the taxpayer's dollar volume of sales will, however, be considered as sales taxes for our purposes. So will gross receipts or gross income taxes to the extent that they are applied to sales.

Discussion of what constitutes a sale and what are transactions or occupations are presented elsewhere in this issue. The question here is: When a taxable sale is made, what is the amount upon which the tax rate is imposed?