Penny tax debate highlights ‘trust’ as issue

Panel asked whether transportation money would be spent as promised

dhinshaw@thestate.com October 23, 2012 

The issue of trust – whether Richland County Council members would spend $1 billion in new transportation money as they’ve promised – was a central issue Monday night at a debate on the penny sales-tax referendum.

“I don’t want to write anybody a blank check,” said ecumenical Bishop Redfern II, among those who said the county hasn’t locked down a construction plan or given specifics on how bus service would improve.

For nearly 11/2 hours, a panel of eight business and community leaders, divided “for” and “against” the proposed sales tax, took questions from an 80-member audience gathered at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

More than one person handed up questions related to trust – such as, would it be possible for the county to change its project list?

Even tax advocate Lee Bussell, head of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, volunteered that’s the question he hears most from voters.

For Bussell, the answer lies in a 15-member citizens committee to be appointed by local governments that would monitor the construction projects.

Businesswoman Jennifer Harding, too, said: “I understand where some of that comes from ... but this is a comprehensive plan that puts some of the decision in our hands.”

Richland Councilman Paul Livingston said voters elect the council “to make the final decisions.” But he insisted the county would follow its publicized list.

“You’re voting for an exact list of roads,” he said.

Livingston also said the council would be required by law to divide the money as it is set out on the ballot, which works out to 63 percent for roads, 29 percent for public transit and 8 percent for sidewalks, bike lanes and nature trails.

The tax would last for 22 years or until it collected $1.07 billion, whichever came first.

Businessman Daniel Rickenmann, who served on City Council until earlier this year, said the plan is flawed because it doesn’t take into account ongoing maintenance or extra police services that will be required.

“It’s going to come back to property taxes at the end of the day,” he predicted.

If approved by voters Nov. 6, the sales tax would increase on most purchases to 8-cents-on-the-dollar. The additional tax also would apply to groceries.

“These are not luxuries, folks, they’re necessities,” said Don Weaver with the S.C. Association of Taxpayers.

Michael Letts, a member of Not Another Penny and a candidate for County Council, said residents should brace themselves for other increases, too, to power and water bills, city hydrant fees and school taxes.

Redfern hit that note, too, calling the issue “the penny that broke the camel’s back.” More than once during the evening, his punch lines had the audience laughing.

“It’s a trust issue,” Redfern said. “Will you spend my money the way you say you’re going to spend it?”

City Councilman Brian DeQuincy Newman, chairman of the board of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, said it’s easy to criticize political leaders of the past. “This is our solution,” Newman said. “This is what we need now.”

And he said there’s “no doubt about it,” the sales tax would fully fund a modern bus system.

Bussell and Rickenmann sparred over projections on job creation and economic investment, with the former councilman saying the chamber of commerce was being unrealistic. Bussell stood by the chamber’s figures.

The debate was sponsored by the Community Relations Council.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service

Top Jobs

View All Top Jobs

Find a Home

$625,000 Columbia
5 bed, 3 full bath, 1 half bath. Move-in ready all-brick...

Find a Car

Search New Cars