What’s not to like about a deal that could bring 1,000 jobs to Hillsborough County, boost the local tax base and move the state closer to collecting sales taxes from the world’s largest online retailer? Seattle-based Amazon is considering land in Ruskin for a 1 million-square-foot warehouse that would create 1,000 permanent jobs, a third of them paying an average of nearly $50,000 a year. Building the warehouse would generate millions a year in local property taxes and put the state in a position to collect sales taxes from the retailer. Hillsborough County commissioners will soon consider whether to approve a package of economic incentives meant to persuade the retailer to spend $200 million building an assembly and distribution center in Ruskin. Unequivocally, the commission should approve the incentives.
Part the package would give a total of $3,000 in public money to Amazon per employee, with the county responsible for $600 of that total. The county would also discount property taxes by about $1 million a year for seven years, roughly half of what the company would normally pay. Unlike some startup companies that win millions in government incentives with pie-in-the-sky promises, Amazon is a multinational juggernaut with nearly 20 years of explosive growth under its belt. And its operations will not affect the environment beyond its footprint. Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that he had reached a deal with Amazon to invest $300 million in the state by building facilities that will create 3,000 jobs. Neither the governor nor the company would say where those facilities will be built, but the South Shore Corporate Park near State Road 674 and Interstate 75 is being considered for one of them. The announcement came less than a month after Scott said efforts to lure Amazon to the state had broken down over the issue of collecting sales taxes from the online retailer. Once Amazon builds those facilities in the state, its sales within Florida will be subject to the state’s 6 percent sales tax. That could be as early as next year, though Amazon says it might take several years to complete its move here. Regardless of when that happens, the governor considers the collection of online sales taxes to be a tax increase on Floridians. It was widely speculated that he backed away from the Amazon deal last month because he wanted to avoid appearing pro-tax heading into his re-election campaign next year. We disagree that taxing online sales generated in the state represents a tax increase. Brick-and-mortar retailers in the state must collect the tax, and now Amazon will join their ranks by establishing operations here. It’s that simple. It’s also fair to all the brick-and-mortal retailers, which must compete with online retailers that can offer the same goods, minus the sales tax. Scott should not be punished by anti-tax forces for putting his ideology aside for the greater good. The self-proclaimed “jobs governor” has delivered a substantial economic windfall for Florida, and he deserves credit. Now let’s hope a big piece of that windfall lands in our back yard.