House OKs no tax in new Amazon bid

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COLUMBIA --- South Carolina legislators voted Wednesday to welcome Amazon.com to the state with a sales tax exemption, after the online retailer upped the ante of jobs and investment.

The House voted 97-20 to give Amazon a five-year exemption from collecting sales taxes from online shoppers in South Carolina. The vote comes three weeks after the chamber voted 71-47 to reject the deal.

The online retailer sweetened the pot before the re-vote. To get the exemption, the company must create at least 2,000 local, full-time jobs with health benefits and invest $125 million by the end of 2013. That's up from 1,250 jobs and a $90 million investment. The company also pledged not to open a retail store in the state.

The Seattle-based company does not currently collect the taxes from South Carolina shoppers. Under the deal, it would begin doing so in January 2016.

"This will never really cost us more than what we're getting today, which is nothing," House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, who represents Lexington County, said at the podium. "When we lose sight of what 2,000 jobs mean, we're really getting blind."

The bill requires another perfunctory vote before heading to the Senate.

Nearly 50 legislators who voted no last month changed their vote to yes, while two changed their vote to no. Even Bingham said he was stunned by the turn. He said Misener called him Tuesday night to offer the enhanced deal, to show Amazon's commitment amid concerns the company would pack up and leave when the exemption ended.

Hours after the previous vote, Amazon announced it was taking job postings off its Web site and abandoning the site in Lexington County. The million-square-foot facility off Interstate 77 is now about 20 percent complete.

The deal was negotiated under then-Gov. Mark Sanford and signed in December, but was opposed by Gov. Nikki Haley. She and tea party activists who oppose the deal say it's not fair to existing retailers. Haley said Wednesday the sweetened deal changed nothing.

Tennessee plans on track

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday backed off trying to force Amazon.com to collect sales taxes on transactions in the state, at least for this year.

The House Finance Subcommittee vote keeps on track the online company's plans to open distribution centers and create more than 1,400 full-time jobs in southeastern Tennessee. The Senate Finance Committee later followed suit and delayed its version of the bill next year.

Republican House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent of Franklin agreed to delay the measure, which Amazon.com opposed. The company says former Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration agreed to exempt Amazon from collecting the tax.

Supporters of the legislation included a coalition of retailers already gathering taxes in the state, including Wal-Mart.

-- Associated Press

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