WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said Thursday that he is not surprised that recent polls show most people do not favor paying online sales taxes.

He said he’d feel the same way if it were not for the harm that tax-free online sales cause to Main Street merchants.

Brick-and-mortar stores, which are required to collect sales taxes, are at a competitive disadvantage to out-of-state retailers who can sell the same merchandise without charging the tax, Womack said, noting that as more consumers shop online, more hometown stores are in jeopardy.

"When you explain the cause and effect of this particular dilemma, most people say they don’t want to pay (the tax) but the last thing they want to see is tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street," Womack said.

The Arkansas congressman has sponsored legislation that would require online merchants to collect sales taxes on all retail transactions. They are now exempted from collecting such taxes for sales in states where they have no physical presence.

Similar legislation has passed the Senate while Womack’s bill awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee. Womack updated reporters on the progress of the bill Thursday during a conference call noting that the chairman of the committee is preparing a "statement of principles" to guide the discussion.

Meanwhile, the National Taxpayers Union on Thursday unveiled the results of a new national poll of likely voters that indicated widespread disapproval of Womack’s legislation.

"The overwhelming results of our survey send an unmistakable message: Nobody likes this federal Internet sales tax scheme," said NTU Executive Vice President Pete Sepp.

As more people turn to the Internet for every day purchases, Womack said, the "uneven playing field" will inevitably lead to more vacant storefronts, lost jobs and a scramble on the part of local governments to find other ways to pay for needed services.

"There is no free lunch," he said.