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Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 10:30 am PT (01:30 pm ET)

Preliminary NC House vote favors $1 billion Apple server farm

North Carolina's House on Tuesday took the first step towards approving changes to the state's corporate tax laws that some local lawmakers believe will help recruit Apple to one of its communities where the company has shown interest in building a sprawling $1 billion data center.

The House tentatively voted 81-31 in favor of the bill which offers to give a single company a tax break of up to $46 million over the next 10 years, assuming that company reaches its $1 billion investment target within nine years, the Associated Press is reporting.

That company, which the media outlet identified as Apple over the weekend, would qualify only if it positions its project in one of North Carolina's poorest counties, provides health insurance, meets a wage standard, and foregoes other state grants or tax breaks.

The preliminary vote followed heated discussion amongst lawmakers, some of which are adamantly opposed to rewriting the law just because a big business dangles the promise of more jobs and money for local communities.

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Stam said local lawmaker's were being suckered by corporations that he believes would be just as likely to set up shop North Carolina without any special concessions. He pointed to earlier efforts by the state where it overbid by offering Dell a $280 million tax break and Google $260 million in relief to build big facilities locally.

"What this bill says is if somebody brings us enough money we'll change the law for them," added Rep. Johnathan Rhyne. "This kind of legislation is unseemly at a minimum and in a worst-case scenario amounts to selling ourselves."

On the other hand, proponents of the bill like Rep. Pryor Gibson signaled a state of urgency and motioned towards North Carolina's double-digit unemployment rate, which last month was as high as 16% in four rural counties. "We want the jobs," he said. "As long as we have to do this, let's try to do this the best way we can."

State official have said that Catawba and Cleveland counties are potential sites for the Apple server farm, which would create hundreds of construction jobs while its being built during the first year and employ roughly 100 full-time workers when it initially opens for business.

North Carolina's House is expected to debate the issue once again before waging a final vote on the matter sometime later today.