Make informed decision about penny sales tax

September 9, 2012 

THE WELL-WORN saying that if you keep doing the same old thing you’ll keep getting the same old results will be put to the test Nov. 6 when Richland County Council asks voters to approve a transportation sales tax very similar to the one rejected two years ago.

Despite presenting virtually the same proposal, county officials hope they’ll get a different result. They’re hoping that a less-sluggish economy, the dire need to fund the public bus system and the heavier turnout for a presidential election, among other things, will mean approval for the tax, which failed by 2,200 votes in 2010.

It’s imperative that bus service be preserved, but this tax remains a hard sell. The few improvements — reducing the duration of the tax from 25 to 22 years, for example — aren’t likely to change many voters’ minds. And reducing the revenue dedicated to buses from 33 percent to 29 percent could hurt the effort.

The proposed penny-on-a-dollar tax increase would raise $1 billion over 22 years to fund the bus system and pay for roads, sidewalks and other projects.

We had hoped local officials would use a countywide utility franchise fee or the proven vehicle fee to permanently fund buses instead of seeking a temporary increase in the overburdened sales tax, which is as much as 9 percent on some items.

But local elected officials and community leaders insist on raising the sales tax. Even at that, the prudent thing would have been to ask for just enough — a fourth or half of a penny — to support the bus system. But supporters argue that voters won’t approve a bus-only levy and that it is important to improve roads and build more sidewalks, bike paths and green spaces to create a connected transportation system that not only serves current residents and employers but also makes the area more attractive to potential businesses.

But many of the compelling arguments against the tax remain. While the economy isn’t as bad as two years ago, there are many still without jobs and hurting; it’s hard to argue that this is a good time to raise the sales tax. And while the bus system is supposed to be the focus of the tax, it clearly is not; roads are. Some consider the money not spent for buses a slush fund, particularly since there is no guaranteed priority list and no assurance that officials will do what they promise.

With supporters and opponents gearing up to sway voters, residents would be wise to get educated on the facts so they can make an informed decision. One way to do that is to attend county-sponsored information sessions, the first of which will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Adult Activity Center, 7494 Parklane Road. The remaining sessions, all of which begin at 6 p.m., will be held as follows: Thursday, Eastover Park; Sept. 17, Friarsgate Park; Sept. 19, Richland County Public Library on Assembly Street; Sept. 20, Blythewood Park; and Sept. 24, Bluff Road Park.

We will take our own advice and thoroughly analyze this proposal, which we reluctantly supported in 2010 because of overwhelming support from business leaders and because local and state officials left us with few other options for funding the buses. This critical issue demands thoughtful consideration.

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