RichCo Council agrees with us on sales tax hike

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.

12 thoughts on “RichCo Council agrees with us on sales tax hike

  1. Evan

    The bus system, under the current managment, will never be anything other than a waste of money.
    Central Midlands and that HUGE board of representatives just can’t handle the job.

  2. bud

    Why not use “hospitality” tax money to fund the buses? The utter waste of money that this tax is being used for simply boggles my mind. A new fascade for the Township Auditorium???? Give me a break. What a complete waste of $12 million in tax money.

  3. Doug Ross

    Agree with Bud. Instead of paying for two billboards on I77 describing what an oasis Blythewood is for travelers, the money would be better spent on public transportation.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Y’all may be onto something. If we’re going to HAVE the hospitality tax (which is problematic in itself, being one of the building blocks in our too-high sales tax), use it for something useful.
    One potential stumbling block — whether state law allows the money to be spent for that. Since this would be a USEFUL way to use the money, the Legislature probably forbids it, in keeping with lawmakers’ policy of forbidding local governments to have any kind of rational taxing and spending policies to meet local needs (one of my personal “favorites:” Not allowing impact fees to pay for the new schools that new development often necessitates).
    But if it’s allowed, what bud suggests might be a good way to go. And if it isn’t allowed, the law should be changed to allow it.

  5. Lee Muller

    The politicos keep telling us how more real estate development will generate the extra tax revenues they “need” to do all their wonderful projects (which we have been getting along fine without for generations).
    But we never see the taxes going down, only up. Each new development just siphons tax money from the residents and property owners, into the pockets of a few developers, many from out of state.
    What’s with editors of The State supporting these out-of-state interests telling our City Council and County Council what infrastructure, parks and roads they need given to them for free?

  6. Mike

    The simple fact is that you have chosen to crucify Richland County to prove a point about the Legislature. Two years ago you didn’t like the vehicle fee — and argued that we needed a comprehensive plan. When community leaders spent two years of time and the county spent more than five hundred thousand dollars to develop such a plan; you argue that it is bad because it increases the sales tax by 1%. Yet when you argued for the comprehensive plan it was pretty obvious that the sales tax was the only likely source of the revenue. That is what was done in Charleston (1/2 cent) and in York County (1 cent). If you own a home in Richland County — you’re already getting back in credits far more than you’d ever pay in an additional penny. That from the local option (which benefits all property owners) and the school tax credit (which benefits only homeowners living in their primary residence). The regressive nature of the tax has been exacerbated by the legislature — but the poor have no ride to work.
    With SCANA stopping its contribution in 2009, the 16.00 fee per vehicle won’t come close to supporting the horrific status quo on public transit — much less provide funds to make needed improvements to create a viable system that everyone will use.
    A legislature that can’t pass a cigarette tax increase for public health isn’t going to magically become enlightened — and suddenly support infrastructure or public transit. Although I fear that you don’t mind having no good roads in the County and no Public Transit if it improves your ability to castigate the General Assembly.
    The community can work to solve its problems which the committee’s proposal did well. Not perfect — and not without a cost.
    I think that you would be rightfully critical of leadership that your approach, which is to lament how horrible the legislature is and let things continue to deteriorate. “Poor poor us, if we just didn’t have this horrible legislative state, we could fix everything”. You seem to be fine to allow that to happen — after all, it does make good things to blog about.
    However, ultimately, that will only result in a poorer economy and less opportunity for us all. The plan wasn’t perfect, no one likes a tax — but most folks would have been well served by the outcome.
    No doubt Richland County, like every other government and most of us as individuals needs to spend more efficiently — how about take a look at that. Hospitality tax needs to be used better, but if you won’t participate in those issues and decisions and become a player on those uses, the public isn’t informed and bad government and elected officials aren’t challenged or changed. It’s nice (as an editor or reporter) to report on a train wreck, I’m sure that it sells papers and generates hits — it’s even better to be part of a solution that fixes the track and avoids the wreck altogether. The victims, not the reporters suffer the consequences.
    It is much easier to criticize than to repair — what is your enlightened solution to fix our public transit system, improve our horrific traffic and make our community more connected, easier to use alternate transit and more livable?
    If you don’t have one, perhaps you should think about it.

  7. Mike Montgomery

    By the way, I should have included my last name in the last post too —
    Let’s talk hospitality tax and these other issues — but let’s not hobble our community and economy because of bad policy at other levels.

  8. Mike Montgomery

    One more point —
    as everyone knows, the issue before council was putting a referendum before the public and justifying the plan and expense.
    Of course, that is the only way local government can raise revenue to build schools, roads and other infrastructure . . no real impact fee, no real means of revenue raising — Home Rule is not recognized by the General Assembly. We do agree on that.

  9. Lee Muller

    Why do the tax rates keep increasing, when the population is increasing and personal incomes are increasing, and increasing tax revenues proportionately?
    ANSWER: Government is growing much faster than the population and the economy, combined.

  10. Mike Montgomery

    Nothing to discuss —
    No one has engaged to discuss transportation or any other mentioned topic. I’m watching and will comment when there is a post that raises the subject. I only wish Brad would explain how Council “agreed” with him when the members who voted no had been consistently doing so — no revelation or epiphany there. I’m also interested in how we find the funds to solve the problem — I wish it were so easy as hospitality tax — but unfortunately public transit is a tough equate to promotion of tourism. I’ve consistently voted to reign in spending on hospitality and accommodations tax — but haven’t gotten much help from my colleagues on council. Do you think that The State is going to now change their minds on that? The world is waiting.

  11. Lee Muller

    I see no sign of the City or Rich Co Council getting any spending under control.
    The hospitality tax should be abolished – it is purely a slush fund.
    The last time I checked the bus system, it cost the taxpayers so much per rider that it would have been cheaper to call them a cab.
    Why not truly privatize the bus system and let the riders pay the full fare? Why should the rest of us pay for a handful of people to ride busses and trains?

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