Hillsborough County OKs Amazon incentives, TaxWatch backs online sales tax

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The Hillsborough County Commission has started to fill its shopping cart with a fiscal package to try to attract Internet giant Amazon, an action under consideration in several communities across central and northeast Florida, reports Jim Turner and Tom Urban of the News Service of Florida.

“This is fiscal responsibility,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said Wednesday of the overall $6.6 million local incentives package. “There are hard-working taxpayers in south (Hillsborough) county who want their tax dollars spent to create jobs, and that is the value we’re going to get for this.”

Meanwhile, the Tallahassee-based fiscal group Florida TaxWatch supported the collection of online sales taxes that would come once the Seattle-based retailer begins operating a brick-and-mortar location inside Florida.

TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said the collection of sales taxes from out-of-state, online retailers could allow Florida to decrease property or corporate taxes, which he said have discouraged investment in the state.

“Not collecting the remote sales and use tax hurts Florida, Floridians and our employees,” Calabro said. “It costs us thousands of jobs.”

Calabro said that as more states push to collect online taxes, Congress will be encouraged to approve the federal Marketplace Fairness Act, which he estimates could increase Florida’s revenue by up to $1 billion a year.

The Marketplace Fairness Act is proposed to end a loophole that has allowed online retailers to avoid collecting sales taxes on purchases made in Florida and many other states where the online businesses don’t have physical presences, such as warehouses.

The act has received mixed reaction in the U.S. House, with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., joining Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform at a Washington, D.C., press conference on Tuesday to oppose the measure.

The Florida Retail Federation, which supports the act, took exception to DeSantis for siding with “remote sellers outside Florida.”

Conservatives have questioned the act, which is often described as a tax increase on consumers and small businesses. Gov. Rick Scott has voiced his support for closing the online sales-tax loophole, so long as the increased revenue would be offset by cuts in other taxes or fees.

Amazon currently does not collect sales taxes from Florida customers but would have to start if it builds warehouse facilities in the state.

When a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said in May that a potential deal with Amazon had been scuttled, the reason given was that the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on when the company would have to start collecting sales taxes. Amazon wanted to delay collection.

But last week, the governor’s office outlined plans by the online retailer to create more than 3,000 jobs and spend more than $300 million in investments in Florida, with Amazon saying it would abide by state tax-collection laws.

Since the release, the state and Amazon have remained quiet about additional details of setting up shop in Florida, offering no comment Wednesday on the action of the Hillsborough County Commission. Meanwhile discussions about attracting Amazon have also occurred in Winter Haven, Ocala, Lakeland and Jacksonville.

Besides creating jobs for the southeast side of the county, Hillsborough commissioners envision dramatic changes for their region, with a “dynamic” company moving forward with a same-day delivery system that will attract other companies to their community.

And they spoke glowingly of the potential tax dollars.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said the collection of sales taxes will be a good thing for both Florida and the local governments seeking to build infrastructure.

“To the county which they reside in, that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Crist said. 

Murman expects Amazon to become a magnet for other companies.

“This is our hurricane, the feeder bands that come off this will be unbelievable,” Murman said.

Hillsborough commissioners agreed to offer up to $225,000, equal to a 20 percent match of money that the state could put through its Qualified Target Industries Tax Refund Program. To get the full state and local credit, Amazon would have to create 375 new, higher-wage jobs at a facility expected to be located in what is now a dirt-patch along Interstate 75 in Ruskin, on the east side of Tampa Bay.

The commissioners also agreed to hold a public hearing July 17 on providing $6.4 million in property-tax exemptions that would be spread over seven years.

The property tax exemptions would require the company to make a $200 million capital investment and create at least 75 well-paying jobs.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.