Politics & Government

Senator delays Panthers tax break bill, says he needs evidence the project helps SC

David Tepper talks about the Carolina Panthers being a North and South Carolina team

Panthers owner, David Tepper reemphasizes regional goals for the Carolina Panthers.
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Panthers owner, David Tepper reemphasizes regional goals for the Carolina Panthers.

Freshman state Sen. Dick Harpootlian on Thursday delayed the Senate’s debate on a proposal to offer nearly $120 million in tax breaks to persuade the Carolina Panthers to move its operations and facilities across the border, saying he first needs to see evidence the venture benefits South Carolina.

The Richland Democrat objected to the Senate bill on the floor Thursday, effectively blocking its passage indefinitely.

“There won’t be a vote until I’m comfortable with whether we have enough information to take a vote,” Harpootlian told The State.

And so far, that information — a cost-benefit analysis of the project by the S.C. Department of Commerce — has not been made public.

The Panthers have expressed interest in moving their headquarters — including 150 employees and a $190 million payroll — into Rock Hill, a half-hour car ride from Charlotte, where the team plays its home games at Bank of America Stadium.

Panthers owner David Tepper, a billionaire who bought the team last June, met privately this month with Gov. Henry McMaster and state leaders to discuss moving the team’s operations to York County and request economic incentives to spark the move.

McMaster and other state leaders say the project would trigger development in the Rock Hill area, including more hotels, retail and restaurants.

Among the incentives included in the legislation are job development credits, used to court companies looking to relocate or expand. For the Panthers, these credits would allow the team to keep their own employees’ income taxes and use that money for site development and other infrastructure costs.

The state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office said the legislation would be worth about $7.8 million per year in 2021 through 2025, then $7.6 million per year from 2026 to 2036.

The House passed the tax incentives on Wednesday after hearing assurances from House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, that the secret cost-benefit analysis shows the project benefits the state of South Carolina.

“The cost-benefit analysis is a positive,” Simrill said. “And, I can tell you, this is a plus.”

But Harpootlian said he wants more than assurances. The former S.C. Democratic Party chairman said he wants to make sure the Commerce Department’s analysis shows the state will get a bang for its bucks.

That kind of report is rarely, if ever, made public by the Commerce Department.

“If I were buying a copier for my law office, I’d have more information than I’ve gotten on this deal,” he said. “These bodies are rushing through not knowing the details. It’s like adopting the Base Load Review Act (the 2007 law that enabled the $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear debacle). Nobody read it. Nobody knew what the implications were.”

State Sen. Wes Climer, R-York, told The State on Thursday he has seen the report and called the project an “economic windfall” for York County and the state’s budget.

But, he added, it’s fair that Harpootlian and others have questions.

“It is fair, absolutely fair for senators to ask questions, and it is mandatory that the Commerce Department provide detailed answers,” he said. “I’d call (on) the governor and the secretary of Commerce and the Panthers organization to do a much better job of making those numbers available to the people of South Carolina and to the members of the General Assembly.”

In response to questions from The State, Commerce Department spokeswoman Alex Clark wrote in an email, “While S.C. Commerce may share preliminary information with individuals who become involved in the recruitment of or discussion concerning any prospective project, S.C. Commerce does not publicly release any specific information related to ongoing projects.”

Harpootlian told The State his goal isn’t to kill the bill, only to get more information before voting.

After seeing the analysis, “If I decide it’s a no deal, I’ll take my name off and everybody can vote.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yawn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State, focusing primarily on the state budget and the lawmakers who decide how your tax dollars get spent. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.


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