Yes, the headlines are full of Amazon’s decision to take its ball and go home after the South Carolina House of Representatives refused to add yet another tax incentive to the goody bag already presented to Amazon. The company says it will not open a distribution center under construction in Lexington County because the state will not give it a special exemption from collecting sales tax.
There are thousands of Main Street retailers across our great state that are glad to keep their doors open and serve the residents of South Carolina, even though they collect sales taxes on every purchase and remit it to the state. They know that being part of South Carolina means supporting this state and the people who live here. These retailers have a passion and desire to do business here.
Our Alliance also has a passion for principled action, which is what the 71 Representatives who voted against the Amazon special deal exhibited.
The case against preferential treatment was clear. Amazon was trying to strong arm the state into giving it more and more, without regard for the needs of the state coffers and residents of South Carolina. Simply put, it was just another out-of-state, online-only retailer trying to avoid its responsibility of paying taxes.
Of course we want to invite business development into the state, and South Carolina could certainly use the approximately 1,200 jobs Amazon promised. But we had provided sufficient enticements to woo the company, such as:
• Free real estate site for a one million-square-foot center;
• Property tax breaks on equipment, estimated at $1.9 million over 20 years;
• State job tax credits;
• And repeal of the state’s Sunday sales restrictions for the company, just in case its 24-hour operations would need it.
As for this “promise” that was broken, that’s a complete falsehood. Amazon was “promised” and delivered the incentives above. Rep. Bill Taylor explains it very well in a recent communiqué with his constituents saying, “Supporters said South Carolina needed to honor a deal struck in the final weeks of the Sanford administration. There was no ‘deal’ on the tax break. There were backroom promises made by people who didn’t have the authority. The memos actually stated the Commerce Department would make its best efforts to secure the legislature’s approval. They did and reasonable people didn’t buy it.”
All of the agreed-upon incentives are still there. The fact is that the outgoing administration could not speak for the lawmakers regarding this provision. It’s highly unlikely that Amazon’s many lawyers were naïve enough to think the sales tax exemption was a done deal, but the company went ahead with its plans regardless. Now it is crying sour grapes.
There are approximately 20,000 retail outlets in the state of South Carolina that employ over 375,000 South Carolinians. If the state were to have made a special concession to one retailer for a thousand jobs, it would have put existing retailers at a distinct disadvantage. It is not the state’s place to pick winners and losers in the competitive marketplace. Frankly, having competition makes us better – that’s the American way. But it must be on a level playing field.
It isn’t fair to give one player the advantage of avoiding sales taxes, while all other players are required to collect. By its vote against this sweetheart deal, the legislature has taken the principled route. The legislators who voted against this deal have given a vote of confidence to all retailers that want to compete freely and fairly in South Carolina.
I believe that doing the right thing will have its own reward. We will work hard as a state and find a partner for that facility that wants to be here – to be a part of this state and contribute, as well as benefit from its association with us. If that’s Amazon, we will welcome them.
And I believe that South Carolina’s retailers will continue to thrive knowing that we are being treated fairly by our elected officials.
Brian Flynn is a spokesperson with the South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness (SCAMSF).