First year could pull in millions for state

COLUMBIA --- An analysis of Amazon's plans to build a distribution center in South Carolina shows the state would net hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.


The cost-benefit analysis, which shows a total benefit of $162.6 million in the first year and nearly $1.1 billion over 10 years, is based on Amazon's prior agreement with the state Commerce Department under former Gov. Mark Sanford, which called for 1,250 jobs with health benefits and a $90 million capital investment.

Amazon sweetened the deal last week to 2,000 full-time jobs and a $125 million investment -- which could push the first-year net to more than $260 million.

House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, who led the case for support as Gov. Nikki Haley opposed it, forwarded the Commerce analysis, dated September 2010, to House Republicans in advance of their re-vote on the Amazon deal.

The online retailer sought a "safe harbor" five-year exemption from collecting sales tax from South Carolina's online shoppers -- a tax the company doesn't currently collect -- in exchange for the jobs and investment. The House approved the enhanced deal 97-20 last Wednesday -- three weeks after rejecting the earlier deal 71-47. Many legislators credit the dramatic change to better information, including the analysis. Bingham said he, too, had to learn the details of what was agreed to under the prior administration.

"I made sure everybody saw that I forwarded what Commerce was giving me. The numbers are pretty strong," said Bingham, who represents Lexington County.

The analysis estimates the value of the sales tax exemption at more than $2.6 million annually, provided the company comes to South Carolina. Under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, a state can't require a company to collect and pay sales tax for purchases unless it has a presence in the state, such as a store. Under the deal, Amazon would begin collecting the tax in January 2016.

What's next?

The fight now moves to the Senate, where two Republican and two Democratic senators called on their colleagues Monday to take up the Amazon proposal this week. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, said enough senators support the deal to get approval, if they can just bring it to a vote. Senate rules would allow a single senator to hold up the issue.