S.C. legislators try for new Amazon deal

COLUMBIA --- Lawmakers will try again to get a sales tax break for Amazon.com through the South Carolina House in hopes of reviving the online retailer's plans to open a distribution center this year and create 1,250 full-time jobs, the chamber's Republican leader said Thursday.

House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said he will try next week to attach the deal to a separate bill on sales tax exemptions. It would give Amazon a five-year exemption from collecting sales taxes from online shoppers in South Carolina in return for the full-time jobs with health benefits and a $100 million investment.

The vote would come three weeks after the House voted 71-47 against the tax break brokered between Amazon and the Commerce Department under former Gov. Mark Sanford.

Bingham said many legislators have asked him to try again. Some thought Amazon was bluffing, since construction was already under way at the site off Interstate 77 in Lexington County.

But hours after the House rejected the deal, Amazon announced it had abandoned plans and pulled job postings off its Web site. The next day, an Amazon executive said construction on the land provided by Lexington County for free was no longer the company's concern. Amazon vice president Paul Misener said the distribution center would go elsewhere, though he declined to say where, saying the company planned to build the facilities around the country.

Legislators said "we need to back up and redo this," said Bingham, whose district is in Lexington County. "It gives a bad reputation to the state."

He said he's optimistic, adding he wouldn't bring it back up for a vote if he didn't think his chances were high.

Misener said he's aware of lawmakers' continued talks and supports efforts "that would allow us to bring jobs and investment to South Carolina."

Supporters have argued that reneging on the deal would jeopardize future recruitment efforts. They noted the break would cost the state nothing since Amazon doesn't collect sales taxes now from South Carolina's shoppers.

How much the state would collect from Amazon if it began to collect the tax is unclear.

Gov. Nikki Haley opposed the break, as did tea party activists and a coalition of retailers that Wal-Mart helped organize. They argued a tax break was unfair to local retailers that must collect state sales taxes, and would impact jobs at Main Street stores.

A week later, Haley and Wal-Mart officials announced the mega discount chain would bring 4,000 new jobs to South Carolina and invest $400 million over the next five years.


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