The Amazon.com lobbyists must be busy working the phones to our state legislators and emailing them copies of the story in Saturday’s State. “Amazon vote drives off two firms”, screams the headline.
The story goes on to quote Lexington County leaders who have been at the fore front in pushing for Amazon.com to be the only retailer in the state not to have to collect sales tax on in-state sales. Not one dissenting point of view was included as you would expect in a news story. Not one. Amazon couldn’t have paid for better one-sided news coverage.
In my blog on Thursday I said, “Now attention must be paid to the Senate. Amazon.com hasn’t been paying possibly six digit fees to lobbyists just to give up as long as the legislature still has a breath of life this session.” Saturday’s front page story tells me that I was correct.
But let’s make sure we all know what the Amazon proponents actually said in the story. One potential manufacturing prospect for Lexington County is “abandoning consideration”. The other was led to “suspend interest” several weeks ago because of the controversy. Neither of these prospects were in the bag as we thought Amazon was. This might simply have been a convenient excuse for the prospects to say no to Lexington County because it sure wasn’t because the state and county didn’t deliver on everything they promised in writing to Amazon.
And while we were all embroiled in battle here with Amazon, Wall Street didn’t care. The company’s stock rose 7.9 percent to reach an all-time high the same day our House voted down the sweetheart sales tax deal. According to a Seattle Times story, the jump in stock price was because investors approved of the company’s efforts to “grab a bigger share of the e-commerce market.”
And how is Amazon grabbing a bigger share of the market? By bullying states like South Carolina into giving them an unfair competitive advantage over the state’s existing brick-and-more and online stores that have to collect sales tax on in-state sales.
The House vote on Wednesday wasn’t only important for fairness to our existing small businesses, it was also important to the national effort to force all online retailers to collect sales tax regardless of the location of the customer.
(S)state bills closing the Amazon loophole do help level the playing field for many businesses and build momentum for needed national reform such as that proposed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who plan to reintroduce the “Main Street Fairness Act” during the current session. Their bill would ratify the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, a compact developed by a coalition of state government representatives to harmonize sales tax policies. The bill also would give states the authority to collect tax on interstate sales under these simplified rules.
South Carolina should be proud of taking a leading role in leveling the playing field for all retailers. Let’s not succumb to hyperventilating about possible prospect losses and instead listen to our Commerce secretary, Bobby Hitt.
South Carolina, like our neighboring states, has similar incentives for new and expanding businesses. Incentives are but one of the reasons that companies choose to locate or expand in our state. South Carolina continues to be a national leader in work force development and has one of the most business-friendly climates in the country. A dispute over a sales tax exemption will not change the state’s international and national reputations as a desirable business location.