TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Amazon.com is promising to bring between 2,500 jobs and 3,000 jobs to Florida if state lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott agree to a deal that would exempt the online retailer from collecting sales taxes for the next two years.
The retail giant, which has offered similar deals in other states, has told top state officials that it wants to spend as much as $200 million on two distribution centers but only if it can get a guarantee regarding taxes.
That could be a hard sell, since the Republican-controlled Legislature is already divided on whether or not to push ahead on bills that would attempt to force online retailers to start collecting from consumers the state's 6-percent sales tax. Business groups representing in-state merchants have asked legislators to pass something this year but House Speaker Dean Cannon has been skeptical about the effort.
John Fleming, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, said the group would oppose any effort to allow Amazon.com to delay collecting sales taxes until 2014.
"We know that Amazon is collecting the sales tax in other states today," Fleming said.
Currently, Floridians are supposed to pay taxes for online purchases but there's really no way to enforce the law. The state can't force out-of-state retailers such as Seattle-based Amazon.com to collect the tax unless it has a physical presence such as a warehouse or store.
If Amazon.com built a distribution center, the argument is that it would have to start collecting taxes from Floridians every time they buy something from the retailer. Some states have tried to go after online retailers by asserting that the tax is owed if the retailer has agreements with other merchants in the state, but those efforts have drawn lawsuits
Amazon last year reached a deal with South Carolina where it promised to build two warehouses and hire 2,000 full-time employees in exchange for an exemption from collecting sales taxes until 2016.
In recent months, Amazon representatives have approached Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Cannon.
Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor's office was also "aware of the proposal" but did not say if the governor would back the deal.
"The governor has been clear about his position that he is open to looking at the online sales tax proposal as long as it does not result in increasing the total tax burden of Floridians," Burgess said.
A spokeswoman for Haridopolos said Tuesday that the Merritt Island Republican has a similar position that any bill dealing with online taxes must include "an equal reduction in taxes elsewhere in the budget."
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale and the chairman of the Senate Finance and Tax committee, has also talked to Amazon representatives but she told them she would run their proposal "up the food chain" to see if there was any interest in passing it. But she maintained that there may be no reason to agree to the deal if Amazon decides it needs to build distribution centers here anyway.
"Once they come into the state, they have to pay the taxes," Bogdanoff said.
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