The proposal to put a local penny sales tax increase for Richland County transportation needs on the November ballot presented us with a dilemma as an editorial board. Some of the main points to consider:
- With the vehicle tax expiring in October, some way to continue funding the Midlands bus system was needed.
- The road work identified in the plan a citizen study group came up with DID identify real needs — although the road construction, along with bike paths, etc. — were in our minds mere sweeteners (in this plan, that is) to draw more votes for the bus funding. There is indeed a need for some road construction, and MUCH road maintenance, not only in Richland County, but across our state. That has been neglected by our Legislature, which has also refused to reform the DOT, making us reluctant to see any additional funding passed, since it would pass through such an inefficient and unaccountable agency.
- With the tax swap of last year, the Legislature has already put far too much stress on sales taxes, and too little on other mechanisms such as property and income. Another penny would exacerbate an already serious problem. It’s not as bad here yet as Tennessee, but we’re getting there.
- The Legislature — see how often the Legislature is the source of problems? — has given local governments no better options for funding local needs.
- Putting the question on the ballot is not the same thing as supporting it.
So, faced with all that and more, we noted the problems with a sales tax increase in our Tuesday editorial, although we reluctantly granted that at this point, perhaps the only way forward was to go ahead and have the referendum. Then, when it failed, the council would know it had to find another way to fund the buses.
Now that it has voted down even having the referendum (which we did not think the council would do, or I didn’t anyway), the county has reached that point even more quickly.
The best option at the moment would seem to be continuing the wheel tax, while looking for a longer-term solution to paying the county’s share of operating the inadequate transit system that we have.