Politics & Government

Mall's $100 million tax break fast-tracked

The proposed development of a high-end shopping mall in Jasper County gained priority status in the Senate Thursday, garnering a coveted slot in the lineup for debate.

The Republican-controlled body voted 29-12 to put a bill seeking an earned sales tax incentive for the $400 million Sembler project on the fast track.

That means the bill should get a vote this session, likely after the state budget is completed next month.

If the legislation passes, it could put shovels in the ground on the project this summer, said Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, bill sponsor.

"We feel very good about it," Pinckney said following the Senate vote. "There is just one word: 'jobs, jobs, jobs,'" he said of prospects from the development.

Similar legislation has been proposed in the House, sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, and Pinckney said the bill has strong support there.

Atlanta-based Sembler plans to build a luxury retail center on 262 acres near Bluffton off U.S. 278 at S.C. 170, across from Sun City, the upscale residential retirement hub.

The tax break could be worth $100 million over 15 years.

Under the proposal, the company would be eligible for the break only after it invests $200 million and creates 1,250 permanent jobs, maintaining an average of 625 jobs annually.

Sembler said it needs the tax breaks to help offset infrastructure development costs.

The company says the project, which has attracted tenants such as Gucci, Ferragamo, Canali and Giorgio Armani, will create 2,500 permanent jobs and 800 construction jobs over a two-year period.

Jasper County has an unemployment rate of roughly 12 percent, while in neighboring Lowcountry counties, the jobless rates range from 16 percent to more than 20 percent.

"My region is happy today," Pinckney said. "The bill was virtually dead, and now it has new life. I'm glad my Senate colleagues want to give it an up or down vote.

"Jobs should be the No. 1 priority in the state of South Carolina, and jobs should be the No. 1 priority of the Senate," Pinckney said.

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CAPITOL CONNECTION

Card check debate has begun in Senate

The Senate opened debate on card check legislation Thursday in what Republican lawmakers say is a bid to maintain South Carolina's long-standing public policy of requiring secret balloting in union organization efforts.

A House-passed resolution under consideration, H. 3305, would make secret balloting for unions a part of the state Constitution. Voters would have to approve it when they go to the polls in November.

First, Republicans must get two-thirds of the Senate to pass the measure.

The legislation is aimed at blunting a federal proposal, The Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to form when 50 percent of a work force indicated a willingness to organize into a union using publicly displayed cards.

Anti-union forces contend the federal legislation makes it easier for unions to form, by use of pressure tactics.

- Roddie Burris

SECRETARY OF STATE VOTE COULD BE AXED

S.C. House lawmakers approved a bill Thursday to let voters decide whether the state's secretary of state should be appointed by the governor or re-main elected.

The measure, which failed to pass the House last session, is part of a government restructuring effort that Gov. Mark Sanford and some other Republicans have pushed for years.

Sanford thanked the House for passing the bill, calling it "a move toward common-sense re-structuring that will make state government more efficient and accountable."

If the bill passes the Senate, South Carolinians will take it up as a ballot measure in November. S.C. voters also will elect a secretary of state in November. If they approve the change, making the post appointed, it would take effect four years later, in January 2015.

- Gina Smith

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