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Sen. Pinckney tries again for local tax option to fund business incentives

After a similar measure failed last year, S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, has introduced a fresh bill to allow municipalities to enact local-option sales taxes to provide tax incentives for retail developments and raise more money for tourism marketing.

It's unclear, however, how hard anyone -- even Pinckney himself -- will fight for it.

The new bill is similar to one that generated weeks of debate in Beaufort County and the General Assembly last year.

That bill was supported by the Sembler Co., the developer then in control of the land slated for the Okatie Crossings shopping center. The bill initially included only the retail incentives but was amended to include the tourism sales tax, supported by both the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton and Beaufort Regional chambers of commerce.

Pinckney, who could not be reached for comment Monday, isn't sure how aggressively he will push the bill, according to The Nerve, a website of the South Carolina Policy Council, a limited government advocacy group.

"But it doesn't mean that I won't," Pinckney told the site last week. "Most likely I will."

The bill, S. 387, has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

RETAIL INCENTIVES

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said the retail incentives portion of the bill is "much less objectionable" than Pinckney's proposal last year because it would use local rather than state sales taxes to help developers pay for infrastructure such as water, sewer and road improvements.

Even so, Davis said public money of any sort shouldn't be used to improve private property.

"Government picking winners and losers in the marketplace is bad public policy," Davis wrote in an e-mail. "For that reason, if and when this part of the bill is taken up by the Senate, I will vote 'no.' "

Horne Properties, the developer that owns most of the 280-acre Okatie Crossings site at the intersection of U.S. 278 and S.C. 170, plans to build a shopping center there without lobbying for the incentives.

Sembler, which owns about 40 of those acres, let an option to purchase the rest of the land lapse last year, citing uncertainty about the incentives.

SALES TAX FOR TOURISM

Davis said he will move to delete the tourism-tax portion of the bill, which he said would apply only in his district.

"The last thing you want to do in a recession is increase taxes and, besides, I have serious reservations about taxes being used for tourism marketing," Davis wrote. "Since this part of the bill affects only my Senate district, I am sure it will be stricken."

Chairman David Tigges said the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, a chief proponent of the tourism tax proposal last year, will not lobby for Pinckney's new bill because the organization might instead support a local-option sales tax to benefit the Heritage golf tournament, Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event.

The tournament's future is in jeopardy because it lacks a title sponsor.

S.C. Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, has prepared a bill that would allow Beaufort County residents to vote on a local-option sales tax to support the tournament if it doesn't find a sponsor. He has said he won't file it until organizers exhaust other options.

Tigges said chamber officials consider securing the Heritage a more pressing need than additional marketing money.

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