COLUMBIA -- The debate over whether to grant Amazon.com a sales tax exemption in exchange for 2,000 South Carolina jobs moved Thursday to the state Senate, as Gov. Nikki Haley reiterated that she opposes the deal but would let it become law if it reaches her desk.
A perfunctory voice vote in the House sent the deal across the lobby, a day after representatives voted 97-20 to approve a sweetened proposal -- a remarkable reversal of that chamber's 71-47 rejection three weeks ago.
Many of the nearly 50 legislators who changed their vote to "yes" said Amazon's willingness to up the ante with more jobs and investment helped prove the company's commitment to the state, and assuage talk from opponents that the company would simply leave when the exemption ended in January 2016.
The deal would give the Seattle-based online retailer a five-year exemption on collecting sales tax from online shoppers in South Carolina -- a tax the company doesn't currently collect in the state. In return, the company must create at least 2,000 local, full-time jobs with health benefits and invest at least $125 million by the end of 2013.
That's at least 751 more jobs and $35 million increased capital investment than the deal signed in December under former Gov. Mark Sanford.
"Many in the Republican caucus decided Amazon was committing to South Carolina; therefore, South Carolina would commit to Amazon. We hope this is the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship," Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, said about her vote change.
She and others said they were better informed this time. Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said he realized the Legislature gave the same deal to QVC in Florence five years ago, and that company now collects the tax.
Horne also attributed the first loss to confusion among House Republicans over Haley's stance.
Haley said Wednesday her position hasn't changed. In meetings around the state, she has called the deal bad policy, saying it's a slap in the face to Wal-Mart and the state's other retailers. However, she said she'd let it become law without her signature.