Letting counties vote on implementing a penny sales tax for schools needs to be signed, sealed and delivered by the time the legislature wraps up this summer.
While the legislative session ends on Thursday, lawmakers have the opportunity to come back and deal with conference committee issues, including the sales tax plan originally proposed by S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken. Approving the plan would be beneficial not necessarily because we need another tax in Aiken County. Implementing a new tax is not the fundamental objective of the plan proposed by local lawmakers. It’s to expand the voice of voters who don’t live in the state’s two biggest tourist counties.
Currently, only Charleston and Horry counties are able to do what Aiken is seeking to do under this proposal. This bill would allow other counties to be eligible to vote for a sales tax for educational capital improvements.
The current law only allows a county to consider such a tax if it has already collected at least $7 million in state tourism taxes.
Charleston and Horry counties have only been able to reach that mark, but the other 44 counties should have the option to raise that money if approved by the voters. That apparently was the intention of lawmakers in the S.C. House, but through negotiation, local legislators scaled that down to only Aiken, Kershaw and Anderson counties. This was particularly needed because of the blowback in the S.C. Senate over the fear of allowing too many counties to raise taxes.
A three-cent cap wisely remains in place for all counties, and a successful vote also would require the School Board to use 10 percent of the revenue to reduce property taxes in Aiken County.
It’s important for voters and legislators to recognize the fact that the measure itself doesn’t actually result in a one-cent sales tax hike in Aiken County or any other county in South Carolina.
The legislation would merely give policymakers the authority to ask voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase through a November referendum in order to fund new facility construction.
Four years ago, school board members tried to move forward with a referendum that, through property taxes, would have raised $236 million for new construction and renovations throughout the county. That election measure failed by a huge margin.
The proposal currently considered by the legislature would give the public a chance to consider a different kind of revenue generator for schools.
It’s vital that all voters have the chance to have their say, and passing this bill would do just that for Aiken County.
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