Haley leaves tax break to Legislature

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley put the fate of a sales tax break for online retailer Amazon.com and 1,200 jobs in the hands of legislators Wednesday while reiterating that she opposes the deal.

"If they decide to go forward with it, my administration is not going to step in the way," Haley said. "It is up to them to decide that."

Haley said she won't sign the legislation -- so far undrafted -- if it reaches her desk and would allow it to become law without her signature.

Last year, Amazon announced it would build a distribution facility in Lexington County, where Haley lived at the time. The deal called for the state Department of Commerce to make its best efforts to revive a law that expired last summer that would prevent the state sales tax from being applied to items South Carolina residents buy from Amazon.

A coalition of small and large retailers that collect the 6 percent sales tax have been lobbying against the break. That and Haley's opposition have kept legislators from introducing it.

Amazon has told Lexington County leaders that they will pull the plug on the project, which promises 1,200 full-time jobs, if the sales tax deal isn't kept. County Council Chairman Jim Kinard said Haley has been asked to do more to prevent that but hasn't.

"She's shown no direction," Kinard said. "She's just basically washed her hands of it."

On Tuesday, Amazon's Paul Misener, its vice president of global policy, huddled with five Lexington County lawmakers in the Senate office building, telling them Amazon would scrap the deal without sales tax legislation, said Rep. Rick Quinn, a Lexington Republican.

Amazon would stop the project even if the House approves the legislation, which Quinn expects will be introduced this week, and it stalls in the Senate, Quinn said.

Haley's stance makes it tough, he said.

"I think the fact she's come out against giving them the exemption has been hurtful to the process," Quinn said.

Other concerns loom, too. For instance, Quinn said, there's no estimate of what the state would forgo in sales tax collections.

In an interview a year ago as she trailed in the GOP primary in the governor's race, Haley said she didn't like big breaks for big companies when there were plenty of small businesses that needed help.

"Don't turn around and bring a company in that says either you give this to me or I'm not coming knowing that they're going to take from your other South Carolina businesses," she said at the time, when the Amazon deal was in the works.


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