Legislators are trying again with a special tax exemption for the online retailer Amazon.com. Both sides say there may be enough votes to pass it this time.
A bill that would exempt the company from collecting sales taxes for five years is set to hit the floor again a month after House members rejected a previous attempt by a 71-47 vote. The next day, Amazon said it would not open a new distribution facility in Lexington County that is currently under construction.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, who represents the area where the facility would be located, said a lot of members didn’t have a chance to examine the costs and benefits the first time. In April, House leaders attached the breaks to a separate bill in order to beat the May 1 crossover deadline.
The House was on furlough a week. We came back the next week and we tried to take a vote to make the crossover deadline as quick as we could. There was a lack of information on the totality of everything involved, because we were not at the table when the deal was cut.
According to both supporters and opponents, several members plan to change their votes the second time around. However, neither side provided names. Legislators said House Speaker Bobby Harrell (who supports the exemption) has been working to sway some members to switch. At least 13 lawmakers would need to defect for the exemption to pass.
The deal was reached under the previous administration of former governor Mark Sanford. However, the details, including a requirement the state Commerce Department make a “good faith effort” to get the exemption, did not become public until March. Current Gov. Nikki Haley says she does not support the exemption.
I would ask, what am I supposed to tell all of these companies I’m talking to now that want to come to South Carolina? Are (legislators) prepared to give sales tax incentives to all of them, as well?
However, Haley said she would honor the current agreement and allow the deal to become law if approved by the Legislature.
Legislators from the Midlands held a rally at the Statehouse Tuesday to show their support for the deal. They said it could have a $61 million dollar impact on the region each year.
Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) said he hopes the result will be different this time.
Those people that are out there in search of a job, those people out there that are looking for hope, hope is coming. For those people that wanted the cavalry to come when they saw that Amazon lost that vote… this is the cavalry.
A vote is expected on Wednesday.
Last month’s vote fell along regional lines, rather than by party. Most of the Midlands delegations voted in favor of the deal, along with many from the Spartanburg area. Bingham said Amazon is also in talks to build a second facility near Spartanburg, if they get the breaks.
However, a group funded by companies which oppose the exemptions says the Spartanburg facility is merely a rumor being spread to get support for the legislation. Brian Flynn, Executive Director of the SC Alliance for Main Street Fairness, also disputed supporters’ claims that 10,000 small businesses in South Carolina do business through Amazon. He said the company used the same number when California tried to collect sales taxes from them earlier this year.
I have a hard time believing they’re using the same number of suppliers in California as South Carolina.
Not all Midlands lawmakers are in favor of the deal. Rep. Leon Howard (D-Richland) says Amazon has not done a good job explaining why he should support tax breaks for them.
I’ve been here long enough to know a lot of things sound good, but when you ask for guarantees and five years from now you look at it, it’s just not what they said it was… I’m not saying I could not support Amazon. I’m asking for some time for some dialogue and some questions to be answered.
Howard said officials from Amazon did not meet with most legislators until 10 minutes before last month’s vote. He called the move a “mistake,” saying Amazon still has not met with either the Legislative Black Caucus or the Democratic Caucus. A majority of the members in those caucuses voted against the exemption.