Taylor, Rickenmann: Where’s the outrage over lack of results on penny sales tax?

Guest ColumnistsJuly 2, 2014 

— Where is the accountability?

In November 2012, the citizens of Richland County voted to raise the sales tax by a penny on every dollar.

The people pushing this tax increase — the Richland County Council, Mayor Steve Benjamin, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce leadership — promised that if we let them raise taxes, we would be rewarded with thousands of jobs, economic growth, new roads, a better bus system and even lower auto repair bills.

Now, here we are, more than a year after the tax went into effect, with no new roads, no economic growth and certainly no lower auto repair bills. Each day, we are paying more in taxes, but getting nothing in return.

Higher sales taxes have been collected for more than a year, but Richland County Council has just now selected an engineering company to oversee road and construction projects. In fact, with everything we were promised, one dirt road being paved is all we’ve seen as a result of it. One dirt road.

What we’ve seen is inexcusable and embarrassing. First, Richland County Council voted to hire a Kentucky-based company, then it rescinded its vote and decided unanimously to start the whole process over again. And the citizens of Richland County continue to pay the extra tax and wait for the better roads and the promised prosperity.

In 2012, we were told that voting “yes” would mean more than 16,500 new jobs and billions of dollars in new investments. It’s the kind of rhetoric that sounds nice when you’re looking for votes, but when will we begin to see those jobs materialize?

Then there’s the mess of who’s running our bus system. After two years of trying to select a bus operator, Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, chaired by City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman, advised us that the board could not select an operator and ended up in a tie vote at 5-5.

Now the board has to start the procurement process all over, many months after the current contract expired and at great cost to taxpayers. How can the CMRTA board members fail to do their jobs without anyone demanding their resignations? If this weren’t costing so much, it would almost be funny.

We are 14 months into the new tax with nothing to show for it. Where’s the outrage? Why are the media not demanding better explanations from officials? Where’s the public outcry for accountability? Why isn’t anyone raising cain? Is it just that we’ve come to expect so little from our government that we’re willing to tolerate it when promises fail to be kept? If this were happening in the private sector, shareholders would have revolted, the board would have been forced to resign and all of the executives would have been fired.

Why should we tolerate this lack of action and accountability from our government?

It was good to see The State’s July 22 editorial, “Bus board should come clean,” and we wholeheartedly agree: We should be alarmed over the repeated bungling of contracts involving the penny sales tax. But there should be more. The lack of results for our taxpayers demands deep investigation. We can’t beat the drum once. We have to keep beating it every day.

Is anyone held accountable for how the revenue is being spent? Does this lack of accountability show us how capital projects are being handled in our community, even as we debate spending millions of dollars more on Bull Street or new county parks? It’s time for the people of Richland County to demand a full accounting.

Mr. Taylor is a Columbia businessman and former state commerce secretary; Mr. Rickenmann is a former Columbia City Council member. Contact them at drickenmann@sc.rr.com or jtaylor@parkandwashington.com.

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