The transportation referendum campaign kickoff

Should have posted about this yesterday and didn’t get to it. Of course, the advantage to waiting is that I can save myself a lot of typing by quoting from the news stories. From Columbia Regional Business Report:

Supporters of a one-penny increase in the sales tax in Richland County kicked off a campaign this week to win voter approval of a plan they said would raise $1 billion over 22 years, address critical transportation needs and create an estimated 17,000 new jobs.

The issue will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot for all Richland County voters.

The transportation penny, according to the county’s proposal, would increase sales tax in Richland County to 8 cents on the dollar on proceeds of sales, with the funds going to improve roads, support the bus system and increase bike and pedestrian greenways. The transportation penny would increase the sales tax to 2 cents on the dollar on groceries, except for purchases made with food stamps, which are exempt from the transportation penny.

The transportation plan that would be funded by the penny sales tax has a major economic development component, supporters say. One of the projects that it would fund is the Shop Road extension, a new section of road in southern Richland County that could open up large new industrial sites that are attractive to manufacturers and allow water and sewer utilities to be extended into the area…

And from The State:

Touting “more jobs, safer roads, local control,” about 80 people gathered Wednesday to roll out a campaign for a Richland County sales tax for transportation.

Citizens for a Greater Midlands, organized by business leaders making a second effort to pass the penny-on-the-dollar tax, were countered by a dozen sign-carrying protesters on the sidewalk along Gervais Street, outside the Clarion Hotel Downtown. Voters rejected the referendum by about 2,200 votes two years ago.

Richland County Councilman Paul Livingston said the tax to fund roads, buses, sidewalks and bike lanes was the single most important issue to arise in his 22-year tenure in county government.

“Some say we can wait on the state and federal governments,” Livingston said. “Folks, we’ve got to do it ourselves.”

He said there were “no viable alternatives” to a local sales tax to address what he characterized as a crisis in the county’s transportation system. Major roads are congested and in poor repair, funding for the bus system is tenuous and pedestrian and bicycle accidents are common, he said later…

I’m going to take Dawn’s word for it that there were a dozen protesters outside, although when I walked through them on my way in and out — the kickoff was conveniently right around the corner from my ADCO office — it didn’t seem like that many. Of course, I would imagine that relatively few people who will vote “no” are so passionate about it that they want to stand on a curb with a sign. One of them who did was longtime antitax activist Don Weaver, who greeted me pleasantly when he saw me come out.

What I do know is that the room with the supporters inside was fairly packed, and consisted largely of people who devote themselves to working for the advancement of the community, from business leaders to elected officials.

Aside from Councilman Livingston (who, like other elected officials, stressed he was there as a private citizen), we heard from a Midlands Tech student who depends on the bus to get her to school so that someday she can have a job that will enable her to afford a car, two or three other bus riders, my good friend Jennifer Harding (former ad director for The State, now in real estate), Steve Benjamin, Brian DeQuincey Newman, and Cameron Runyan. Rival adman Lee Bussell spoke for the Chamber — he was the one who stressed how the Shop Road extension would help open up prime locations for industrial recruitment.

The most compelling argument for this plan came from Mr. Livingston. He charted the path of this process, from the 39-member citizens group six years ago that drafted the plan that has changed little since then, and made the salient point — this is it, the only viable vehicle for both saving our bus system and funding other transportation priorities.

People who don’t want these things for our community will of course vote against it, which is their right. But people who do want any of these things, and vote against this plan because everything about it isn’t perfect, are fooling themselves and doing their community a disservice. Because this is it. It took a long time to get to this point with a lot of people working hard to do so, and there has been NO effort by anyone I’ve seen to put an alternative plan on the tracks.

39 thoughts on “The transportation referendum campaign kickoff

  1. Brad

    You notice Jack Kuenzie at the far right of the header image on my main page? He was the only reporter there who asked any questions, something that one former editor at The State who was present noted with incredulity.

    Hey, Jack’s an old pro. But not asking questions at a presser is not a big deal, especially for print journalists. Broadcast people like to have you answering questions on-camera. Print people can usually get more and better information by grilling their sources before or after the public deal.

  2. bud

    The transportation penny, ….

    Now that is just plain condescending. This gimmicky catch phrase hides the fact that sales taxes will increase by more than 12% in the Columbia area.

  3. Brad

    I’ve mentioned this before… when I supervised reporters I always told them that they should go to these events just in case anything unexpected happened, but if they didn’t have the story before the press conference, they weren’t doing their jobs.

    And if they WERE doing their jobs, they already knew more than the other reporters attending. So if they still had questions, they would probably be ones that the competition didn’t know to ask — so why give the competition the benefit of the answers by asking the questions publicly?

  4. bud

    He said there were “no viable alternatives” to a local sales tax to address what he characterized as a crisis in the county’s transportation system.
    -Paul Livingston

    Nonsense. Coupled with Harvey Peelers comments about the infrastructure bank’s forced building of an unwanted road in Charleston AND the DOTs insistence on building the unneeded I-73 AND the continued insistence on retaining the hospitality tax ther are PLENTY of other options. This indicates a lack of real leadership by our local officials. There are plenty of options to fund the buses in Columbia rather than digging into the pockets of the cash strapped residents of the midlands during a time of hardship. I say reject it until ALL other avenues for funding are exhausted.

  5. Doug Ross

    I’d like to see the analysis that came up with the 17,000 jobs.

    1 billion dollars divided by 22 years = $45,454,545 per year.

    $45,454,545 divided by a minimum wage paying job (8*40*52 = 16,640)
    equals 2731 jobs equivalent to working at McDonalds.

    And that would be if EVERY DOLLAR was spent on salaries and every salary was minimum wage which isn’t close to the case.

    As usual, the pro-tax side uses phony and misleading statistics to try and make its case. It’s a 14.2% increase in the tax rate applied to thousands of dollars of purchases made by every family.

    Roads should be paid for by gas taxes and vehicle taxes, not sales taxes.

    Bike paths in Columbia are not necessary nor even a priority.

    This was simply a kitchen sink approach – throw everything into one bill to give it the most backers looking to take tax dollars.

    There are alternatives. They could be accomplished by making choices instead of going back to the trough as usual. That’s the easy way for politicians to avoid doing their jobs.

  6. Brad

    There Bud goes again… I’ll never understand the objection that the antis have to using a simple label — the “penny” — that everyone fully understands, and does not mislead anyone in the slightest.

    If you don’t use a short handle like that, you’re stuck saying “transportation sales tax referendum” or something equally awkward. It’s more convenient for everyone to have something short to call it.

    If it were only for the buses (which, in my perfect world, it would be), we could say “the bus vote,” or whatever. But in this case, that’s only partly descriptive. But there’s no argument that it’s about a tax levy that amounts to a penny on the dollar. Simple, straightforward, accurate and understandable.

  7. Doug Ross

    “He said there were “no viable alternatives” to a local sales tax to address what he characterized as a crisis in the county’s transportation system. ”

    What are these non-viable alternatives? I’d like to see them listed and explained as to why they are not viable.

  8. Doug Ross

    Call it the “transportation tax increase”. That’s what it is. It is not a penny. It is a penny on every dollar spent.

    If it’s just a penny, let me send my penny in now and be exempt.

  9. Steven Davis II

    So if it doesn’t get approved this attempt, how many days before it’s brought up for vote again?

    Vote 1 – No
    Vote 2 – No
    Vote 3 – No
    Vote 4 – No
    Vote 5 – No

    I’m seeing a pattern here.

  10. Brad

    Gentlemen, if there’s an alternative, it exists in an alternative universe.

    This one has taken six years of heavy lifting by a large number of community leaders and everyday citizens to get it to this point.

    Show me where a rival effort has even been STARTED, much less advanced so much as an inch along the long road toward being enacted.

    This is it. If it’s rejected again, you’ll see pretty much the same plan advanced yet again. Because this is what the community, after a long deliberative process, has come up with. There is simply no political capital behind doing anything else.

    If you have evidence to the contrary — if there’s some amazingly effective underground movement going on out there advancing (and I mean actually advancing, not talking pie in the sky) — please point it out.

  11. Doug Ross

    It’s almost comical how packaged this effort to raise the tax is. First, because we have high unemployment, you reference the phony made up jobs number. Then to tug on the heartstrings, you bring out the story of one student who can’t afford a bus ride to Midlands. Does she have a cellphone, eat out at restaurants, go to movies? If she’s got an iPhone, the cost of the phone would probably cover her bus fare for a year. Then you hit the people up with “If we don’t get this, we’re up the creek”… even though the last time it was voted down, the city didn’t come to a halt.

  12. Doug Ross

    I await your answer on the jobs number. If you can prove to me that it will create 17,000 jobs with only 1 billion dollars, I will promise you I will vote for the measure. Are you willing to bet your vote that the number is far less? And by “job” it can’t be some temporary work done by a contractor. A job is a regular paycheck with benefits over a period of years.

    Do the math. It’s bogus.

  13. bud

    I get annoyed with these clever catch phrase attempts to make the whole thing sound like something other than what it is, a 12% increase in the sales tax. It all comes across as something focus group tested. Let’s leave these misleading taglines to the folks selling Viagra. Despite that I’d still vote for it if I supported it but I’d still be annoyed.

    But I don’t support it as it is. And I don’t give a damn how much time has been spent on it. It’s still a bad plan. Here’s the thing, the midlands area members of the state general assembly are getting rolled by our friends on the coast when it comes to securing IB money. And our City of Columbia Council members are enablers. Why don’t we fight for some of that infrastructure bank money? There are many worthy projects that could be funded that way. But nooo, its just easier to roll out this assinine “penny” plan and try to convince the voters it’s the only way. I don’t buy it and neither should the voters of Columbia.

  14. Steven Davis II

    @Doug – Don’t forget the guy who’s job it will be for the next 22 years it is to count those 100 billion pennies. They’ll probably have to hire a couple of people in case one gets copper poisoning.

  15. bud

    Show me where a rival effort has even been STARTED, much less advanced so much as an inch along the long road toward being enacted.

    That’s the point. Our midlands leaders ARENT advancing an approach other than this “penny” nonsense.

  16. bud

    If it’s rejected again, you’ll see pretty much the same plan advanced yet again.

    And you see nothing wrong with that? Seriously?

  17. Ralph Hightower

    Will Richland or Columbia drop a penny from their prepared foods (ie, restaurant meals) if the transportation penny tax passes?

    I heard that Columbia will drop their utility tax, but that doesn’t affect me; eating in Columbia does.

  18. Mark Stewart


    You just said the pro-tax side was phony and misleading with it’s statistics. And then you yourself said that this is a 14.2% increase in the tax rate that would apply to thousands of dollars of purchases made by every family.

    To me that is stilted as misleading language.

    Can we all agree that for the typical family we are talking about an increase of $50-$200 per year?

  19. Brad

    Doug, it’s not up to me to defend the jobs number. It’s not my number. I’m quoting Jim Hammond, who’s quoting somebody else, and I’m not even sure who. I didn’t write down the 17,000 number, and don’t even recall anyone saying it yesterday.

    So it’s more than a little ridiculous to demand impatiently that I tell you where it came from.

    Tell you what — next time I see Jim, I’ll ask him who said it. And then I’ll email that person and ask where it came from.

    All I can give you right now is a wild guess… Harry Miley, the economist, did a study on this awhile back. I saw him at the kickoff. Maybe it came originally came from Harry. But I have no idea.

  20. bud

    SD II is on to something. Since this is a “penny” tax we should all pay it with pennies only. Every time we buy a big ticket item like a 50″ TV from Best Buy just bring in the pennies that constitute the transportation tax portion of the sales tax. Then it would be a true “penny” tax. If the TV costs $1000 just bring in a bag of 1000 pennies. All the merchants could throw those in a big hopper for pickup by the city tax collector.

  21. Brad

    I went ahead and did a little legwork for you, Doug. I went to the campaign’s website and found a link to the Miley study.

    But the only jobs figure I saw right away says “Over 14,400 new jobs will be created as a result of the penny.” So I still don’t know who said 17,000. In the meantime, though, you can peruse Harry’s report.

  22. Doug Ross

    You shouldn’t have posted that link. All it does is present a bunch more numbers with questionable accuracy. Each line is presented as fact when it is nothing more than an absolute best case scenario in a perfect world.

    Do we really need to look back at all the hype about the jobs that Innovista was going to create? Total b.s., completely wrong. This is the same thing.

    “The penny will have a $1.1 billion economic impact during life of plan — $652 million direct, $212 million indirect, $247 million induced.”

    What is “induced” impact?

    These numbers are wild guesses inflated to the highest possible outcome.

    And then they throw out 17,000 jobs and rely on public stupidity to believe it.

  23. Doug Ross

    Thank you for posting it, Brad. It helps support my case that the numbers are made up. I appreciate your help in defeating the penny tax.

  24. J

    You may not be familiar with the economic multiplier when you have a significant income source. Of course your math on jobs wont compute unless you understand basic econ dev. I agree that the fuel tax is better for funding these items, but try and get that through the state legislature. Your TEA party has been Taxed Enough Already and they control the majority who are Repugs.

  25. Steve Gordy

    The short-term impact is very hard to calculate. In the long run, no city or metro area can be economically vibrant without a suitable system of mass transit. Notice I said “suitable”; no one expects Columbia’s system to rival Charlotte’s. However, when Dallas, Denver, and LA are making major investments in mass transit, there may be a lesson here.

  26. J

    Steve, you’re so right. We have to have a vision and do and preposition for what’s possible. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (that’s for for our SS friends)

    Economic Development starts with good communities and good communities don’t just happen. They are built by leaders with a shared community vision. You can quote me on that.

  27. Doug Ross

    A bus system that only supports lower income people and students will never create economic progress. Economic progress would create the need for a bus system for higher income people.

    Create the environment that promotes business growth FIRST, then provide the bus system to support it.

    Otherwise, all the bus system becomes is a subsidized welfare system. That’s what it is now.

  28. Doug Ross


    Thanks for the pointer to the FitsNews story. So part of the tax increase may be going to Innovista. Folks says $50 million. If even “just a penny” goes to that failure of epic proportions, we as citizens should be ashamed of ourselves.

    For those of you duped into thinking that this is about bus service for poor people, you need to wake up. You’re living in a dream world. It’s about taking money from taxpayers to give to well connected politicians and their cronies.

  29. Doug Ross


    Is money from the transportation tax increase planned to go toward funding projects at Innovista? If so, what transportation project would that be?

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