S.C. House approves Amazon tax break deal

After a dramatic turnaround Wednesday in the House, the battle to win a prized tax incentive to lure moves to the state Senate, where the online retailer’s support has not been tested.

A 97-20 tally — aided by 49 legislators, mostly Republicans, who switched their vote — handed the Seattle-based company a real shot at receiving a five-year exemption from collecting state sales tax on each purchase by South Carolina shoppers. Last month, the House refused to grant the incentive on a 71-47 vote, which halted the project.

The vote came after Amazon sweetened its offer Tuesday night with an additional 751 jobs and $35 million more in investment, said Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, who became the House point man in the high-stakes battle.

Amazon has committed to at least 2,000 jobs and a minimum of $125 million investment, Bingham announced on the House floor just before the vote.

One of the tipping points in the outcome was a private meeting between Gov. Nikki Haley and the House Republican Caucus just before Wednesday’s vote, according to several members who attended.

The legislators, who requested anonymity, said Haley and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt told them that Amazon’s decision to stop building a distribution center in Lexington County was not hurting the state’s economic development prospects. Amazon backers have contended the state reneged on a promise to adopt the sales tax exemption, which sent a message that South Carolina’s commitments were unreliable.

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