The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 14, 2011

House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

One unlikely bout of political drama pitting Texas against Amazon.com has spawned another: Gov. Rick Perry vs. Comptroller Susan Combs.

On Friday, Perry told The Washington Examiner that he took issue with the comptroller's handling of a sales-tax dispute between Amazon and Texas that led the mega-retailer to announce Thursday that it had decided to withdraw operations from the state, closing an Irving warehouse and canceling plans to hire 1,000 workers.

"That is a problem, and I would suggest to you that we need to look at that decision that our comptroller made," Perry said. "The comptroller made that decision independently. I would tell you from my perspective that's not the decision I would have made."

The dispute stems from $269 million the state demanded from Amazon in October for past-due sales taxes. The state has cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that companies must comply with state tax laws in which they've established a physical presence.

But Perry said Amazon had no physical presence, as the state has interpreted the term. "You couldn't go in and buy anything out of that store, and that, historically, has been the way we defined whether you pay taxes or not — if you had a storefront," he said.

Combs, a Republican, stood her ground. "We regret losing any business in Texas, but our position hasn’t changed," said Combs spokesman Allen Spelce, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Perry told the Examiner that he hoped the Legislature could remedy the situation while it's in session. "Hopefully someone will be able to craft some legislation — and actually do it — before Amazon walks out the door," he said.

CULLED:

  • U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry sounded their distinct political sirens at full volume during back-to-back speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday. In a rollicking speech in front of a rowdy crowd, Paul — who went on to win the conference's presidential straw poll with 30 percent of the vote, ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 23 percent — hit on familiar libertarian talking points and slammed modern American bipartisanship, which he said has created many of the nation's woes. A rambunctious Perry, at times raising his voice and jumping in the air, sang local government's praises during his address, calling out Washington for its "obsession with the primacy of their ideas, their love affair with one-size-fits-all solutions."
  • State Rep. Will Hartnett, appointed to investigate the election contest filed by Republican Dan Neil against state Rep. Donna Howard, declared Friday that Howard had won the November election by four votes, putting the Austin Democrat one step closer to officially hanging on to her District 48 House seat. A committee will now consider Harnett's recommendation and then make a recommendation of its own to the full House, which could vote on the matter if Neil doesn't withdraw before then. Neil's lawyer has said they're not done fighting and that they intend to take their case to the committee.
  • Gov. Rick Perry has said hands off, but state lawmakers are having an increasingly hard time staying away from this session's forbidden fruit: the Rainy Day Fund — which one Republican state senator now says would be "insane" not to use.

"Pink slips were handed out for legislators in both political parties. … It was awesome!" — Gov. Rick Perry, speaking Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference about conservatives' impact on the 2010 elections

MUST-READ:

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.