Points worth noting

Posted Friday, Feb. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Creating Amazon.com jobs

Amazon.com put quite the happy face on confirmation this week that it's building three fulfillment centers in Texas, including a 1.1-million-square-foot facility in the city limits of Haslet, on the southwest side of Alliance Airport.

"We appreciate the state and local elected officials who have helped us make this exciting investment in the state of Texas," Mike Roth, Amazon's vice president of North American fulfillment, said in a news release.

State Comptroller Susan Combs initially helped by insisting that Amazon pay $269 million in sales taxes she said the company should have collected and remitted for online sales to Texas residents from 2005 through 2009.

The Legislature then helped by rejecting an Amazon proposal to create jobs and invest in Texas in exchange for not having to collect taxes for 4 1/2 years.

In the end, the Seattle-based online retailer settled its bill (which the company disagreed was owed) by pledging to create 2,500 jobs and invest $200 million in Texas over four years. Texans started having sales tax collected on Amazon.com purchases last July.

The three centers together are expected to employ more than 1,000 people, Amazon said, without specifying how many would work at each location.

The company said fulfillment center jobs "pay on average 30 percent more than traditional retail jobs," not including the stock grants awarded to full-time workers.

The Haslet facility is expected to open in mid-August, Star-Telegram business writer Sandra Baker reported. It will handle smaller items, such as books, DVDs and small electronics. New centers in Coppell and Schertz, east of San Antonio, will handle televisions and other large items, the company said.

The comptroller's office hasn't made clear how much, if any, of the $269 million bill will ever get paid. It's likely that online sales tax collections will help boost the state's biggest revenue source, but it's too soon to tell how much.

The comptroller's revenue estimate for the 2014-15 biennium said sales taxes are expected to increase 9.4 percent over 2012-13, to $54.9 billion, but online revenues aren't broken out separately. (bit.ly/WkaZnf)

Fewer Tarrant chairmen

Turnover in the Texas Legislature brings in fresh faces and different ideas. But loss of seniority can mean less influence on critical issues.

For Tarrant County, the committees that House Speaker Joe Straus announced Thursday reflected in part the loss of experience that resulted from November's elections: six of the delegation's 11 are freshmen, and some got fairly obscure assignments.

Rep. Charlie Geren, a Republican with substantial power in Austin, remains chairman of House Administration and serves on three other committees, the most important being calendars, the panel that decides which bills get to the floor for a vote. He also sits on the licensing and administrative procedures committee, where casino gambling will go if the push gains traction this year.

"We'll be treated fairly," Geren told Star-Telegram Austin bureau chief Dave Montgomery about the Tarrant delegation. And surely Geren knows what he's talking about.

Still, it's concerning that the county has no members on the public education or transportation committees, given how significant those issues are to the region. Even though legislators needn't be on a particular committee to do good work in that area, it's a change for the county to not be represented on either the House or Senate committees dealing with public schools.

And that could require Tarrant County school districts to rethink who can be their most influential advocates in a session where adequate funding is top priority.

Straus did name Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington vice chairwoman of the higher education committee, which is good news, especially for the University of Texas at Arlington and Tarrant County College, given that funding, tuition and other issues affecting colleges and universities are expected to receive close attention. Patrick also will be an important voice on appropriations, which writes the budget.

Some new members were appointed to panels in line with their expertise, such as Stephanie Klick, a former nurse and Tarrant County Republican Party chairwoman, landing on the human services and election committees. And Tarrant's newest untested Democrat in Austin, Nicole Collier, will be on defense and veterans affairs and public health. Both could have considerable impact on her southeast Fort Worth constituents.

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