The bill numbers have been changed to protect the innocent. If you had left Austin for a couple of weeks starting, say, right after the regular session, you'd have returned to find new congressional maps in place and little else to show for the special session.
The issues before lawmakers are, with only an online bookstore here and a pat down there, the same issues that were pending at the end of the regular session in May.
Both of those look like busts. Lawmakers looking at a new proposed tax break for Amazon are giving it — and Gov. Rick Perry, who's promoting it — a chilly reception.
The other bill — it's been dubbed the groping bill in popular parlance — would limit the personal intrusiveness of searches at airports and other facilities where TSA and its relatives congregate. There isn't a lot the state can do about federally regulated air travel. But lawmakers can raise their voices about it without getting the result you'd get if you spoke your mind at the x-ray machine down at the airport. It's coming up for House debate. And in advance of that, TSA announced it'd tone down its pat-down searches of children under 12.
The latest Amazon deal showed up after the regular session. The online bookseller is feuding with Comptroller Susan Combs, who sent Amazon a bill for $269 million in back taxes last year. The company doesn't collect sales taxes on its own account (it does for some of its booksellers), saying it doesn't have the kind of physical presence in Texas that would require it to collect sales taxes from customers and remit them to the state. Combs says it does, in the form of a distribution center and warehouse owned by affiliated company in Irving.
Perry weighed in on that earlier this year, siding with Amazon and against the comptroller.
Now Amazon wants the state to leave it alone for four-and-a-half years, allowing it to sell in Texas without collecting sales taxes until the beginning of 2016. In return, the company says, it's willing to hire 6,000 full-time workers in Texas over the next three years and to invest $300 million in half a dozen warehouse and distribution centers around the state.
Another proposal before of lawmakers would tighten state laws that say how much and what kind of physical presence require a company to collect sales taxes. Without "nexus", companies aren't required to collect. Rep. John Otto's proposal says a company that owns at least 50 percent of an affiliate or subsidiary in Texas would have nexus.
Otto's proposal is attached to SB 1 — a fiscal matters bill that's critical to the budget. Perry vetoed a standalone version of the provision earlier this month. Now it's on a necessary bill, and the tax break for Amazon that the governor supports is not. There's still time on the clock, but that bill is coming out of a House-Senate conference committee, bound for up-or-down approval in both chambers. They'd have to send it back to conference for repairs to change it.
Curiously, Ms. Combs estimates the Amazon deal would cost the state nothing. On the one hand, she’s got a pending tax case against the company that says its failure to remit sales taxes costs the state about $70 million annually. And Mr. Otto’s bill would have brought in $16 million over the next two years, by Ms. Combs’ official estimate. But giving the company a break for the next two years is a freebie, apparently. “Our current revenue estimate does not assume that Amazon will either voluntarily or be compelled to collect taxes during the 2012-13 biennium, so there is no loss to the estimate from the agreement,” a spokesman said via e-mail.