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For years, state officials have wrung their hands in frustration because they haven't been able to tax most online retail sales. By some estimates, states could collect an extra $211 billion over the next five years in sales taxes from burgeoning online revenue, and they hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will give them the green light this spring to dip into this mostly untapped pool to fill state treasuries.

At issue is a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, prompted by the state's efforts to collect sales tax from an Illinois catalog company. The court sided with the catalog company in straightforward terms: A company must have a physical presence in a state to be subject to sales tax. That's been the law of the land ever since, but states argue that the court could not have foreseen the consequences of this ruling in 2018 when consumers are buying billions of dollars of goods with a few keyboard clicks rather than going to the mall.

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