Lawmakers to try again on Amazon

Amazon.com refers to its distribution warehouses, like this one in Arizona, as “fulfillment centers.” The online giant plans to open one in Lexington County that would employ 1,249 workers, but hiring is on hold as the Legislature debates tax incentives for the company.

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 that it had abandoned its 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 is optimistic, adding that he wouldn't bring it back up for a vote if he didn't think his chances were high.

Bingham said he has not had any discussions with Amazon executives, so there is no guarantee that Amazon would return to its plans. A company spokeswoman did not return a message.

Supporters have argued that reneging on the deal would jeopardize future job recruitment efforts. They noted that the break would cost the state nothing, since South Carolina online shoppers don't pay sales taxes now when they buy from Amazon.

How much the state would collect from Amazon's online shoppers in South Carolina if they began to pay sales taxes is unclear.

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