Richland County is again calling a November referendum to address $1 billion in transportation needs after voters barely rejected the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase two years ago.
Whats different this time, boosters say, is a funding crisis for public transit. And Wednesday, in deciding the ballots wording, the council boosted the proportion that would go both for buses and for pedestrian amenities.
Councilman Paul Livingston, the point man on the referendum, fended off last-minute counterproposals to extend the duration of the tax by two years, to 22 years. That allowed the council to satisfy bus advocates and environmentalists while preserving the work list for roads, which would still receive the majority of the money.
If the tax increase were to bring in the projected $1.17 billion before the year 2035, the tax would end early, as required in state law.
The voice vote was 9-1, with Bill Malinowski opposed and Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy absent.
The council agreed that 63 percent of expected revenues should go to roads, with 29 percent for buses and 8 percent for bike lanes, sidewalks and trails.
Along with deciding the details of a ballot question, Richland County Council budgeted money Wednesday for an educational component so voters will know which projects would be funded if they approve a transportation sales tax.
Two years ago, a divided council withheld money for educational materials after constituents protested the county would be using taxpayer money to persuade them to raise their taxes.
This go-round, three of the four people who spoke as part of a public hearing on the allocation said they wanted published details on how the transportation sales tax would be used. The council complied, again on a 9-1 vote, with a majority saying it was essential to get accurate information into the hands of voters 2,200 of whom defeated the 2010 referendum.
I heard over and over and over that people said they didnt know what it was all about, said Councilman Jim Manning, who suggested the county produce just-the-facts brochures to distribute at community meetings and gathering places.
Thats one thing that will be different as business groups and taxpayer advocates campaign to sway Richland County voters Nov. 6.
Political observers say presidential politics will drive voter turnout in Democratic-leaning Richland County.
Campaign consultant R.J. Shealy, wholl be working against the tax increase, said he doesnt anticipate any big changes in strategy from the flyers, signs, press conferences and opinion pieces that he helped organize in 2010.
The slogan last time was very simple, he said, just Vote No.
The group, now called Citizens Advocating Buses and Common Sense, is appealing to local merchants who worry theyll lose customers to Lexington County, organizer Don Weaver said.
We will be able to raise some money, Weaver said, declining to identify a fundraising goal. We will have a campaign this fall.
Folks who live across the north part of the county, from Ballentine to Blythewood, voted against the tax. So did voters just south of Columbia.
Columbia voters, for the most part, were receptive, as were those in Lower Richland County.
Allen Olson, founder of the Columbia Tea Party in 2009, said the countys suburban areas just tend to vote more conservatively.
But the 2010 results were so close, I wouldnt put money on it either way, he said Wednesday.
That year, an arm of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce raised close to $250,000 for a campaign. Strategist Heyward Bannister said hes had two years to establish ties with more neighborhoods, community groups, churches and big companies with employees who ride the bus to work.
He promised door-to-door visits, mailings, social media and advertising just about any voter contact technique that you can think of, customized by the area of the county.
Chamber chairman Mike Brenan said the sales tax is the only way to make inroads into the communitys broad transportation needs.
We think its about job creation, Brenan said. Having the proper infrastructure, having the proper roads, having a first-class transportation system just makes Columbia and the Midlands more attractive for business growth.
The proposed increase would bring Richland Countys sales tax to 8-cents-on-the-dollar.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.