Robards, Cyclones eye title

J.B. Robards

Just before Gov. Mark Sanford left office, he made a pretty good deal.

His Commerce Department staff reached an agreement with Amazon.com to build a $100 million warehouse in Lexington County that would create 1,249 full-time jobs and a couple thousand more seasonal positions.

The state agreed to not collect sales taxes and forgo property taxes for five years, subject to renewal.

Last week lawmakers reneged on the deal, damaging the state's business reputation and costing a fair number of jobs in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

The funny thing is, the whole thing was killed by Gov. Nikki Haley.

Looks like the folks who said a vote for Haley was a vote for four more years of Sanford were, unfortunately, wrong.

Apples, meet oranges

Sanford was not a big incentives guy.

Twice he vetoed concessions for Cabela's, an outdoor sporting goods store that wanted to build in North Charleston. Sanford said that deal was unfair to existing business -- and he was absolutely right.

"If you ... give incentives to other folks," Sanford said last year, "what you're doing is hurting the folks that built these things without incentives."

The fact that Sanford went along with the Amazon deal was not an instance of ideological impurity. This, he realized, is different.

Amazon already competes with South Carolina businesses, and it doesn't pay sales tax because it is an Internet business that ships across state lines. That wouldn't change with a Lexington warehouse, which would only be a distribution center. It's not like folks could walk in there and buy, say, Sammy Hagar's new autobiography "Red" without paying sales tax.

Under the deal struck, Amazon would have started paying property and sales taxes in five years. Now, it will never pay. Nor will it contribute to unemployment insurance. And, most importantly, it won't hire any state residents.

However, it will still compete with local businesses -- but the state will get absolutely no benefit.

Nostalgia time

Haley said incentives in this case were wrong, that manufacturing jobs are worth more than retail jobs. She has a point there. But these weren't exactly retail jobs, and the circumstances were unique.

Basically, the governor said that if lawmakers approved the deal, she wouldn't sign it but would allow it to become law. That sounds kind of technical to most folks, but it was a bit of fence-straddling that killed any chance of passing the deal in the Legislature.

Lawmakers interpreted that to mean she would blame them for what she called "not a good way to do business" if the tea party complained.

That's exactly what she meant. Last week Haley called it "bad policy" -- a not-so-veiled slap at Sanford -- and claimed that she didn't know about the agreement.

Didn't know about a deal to bring more than 1,000 jobs to her own county? That's a bit scary.

So Haley has now made a clean break from her mentor. And you have to figure that her neighbors up there in Lexington, like a lot of people, are now longing for the heady days of the Sanford administration.