Beaufort News

State Senate candidate Margie Bright Matthews pays delinquent taxes ahead of auction

Margie Bright Matthews
Margie Bright Matthews Submitted photo

State Senate candidate and Walterboro attorney Margie Bright Matthews paid Colleton County almost $8,000 in delinquent taxes and fees early last week, according to the county tax collector.

The payments save six properties owned by she and her husband, Patrick Matthews, from the county's delinquent tax auction on Monday -- where they could have been bid on and eventually claimed by a new owner, said Colleton County Tax Collector Larry Lightsey.

Bright Matthews is the Democratic nominee to replace slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney to represent Senate District 45, which includes parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. She will face Jasper County Republican Al Fernandez in a special election Oct. 20.

Bright Matthews still owes another $6,200.80 to Colleton County in back taxes and fees on the couple's home on Jones Swamp Road, Lightsey said.

She has stayed silent on the delinquent-tax issue during the past month.

But on Friday, Fernandez and the S.C. Republican Party scolded her for the late payments.

"Ms. (Bright) Matthews' inability to pay her taxes on time raises serious questions about her fitness for office," said Matt Moore, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party. "Fiscal responsibility is paramount for any public servant ... If she can't pay her own bills, how can you properly represent the state?"

The S.C. Democratic Party and Senate Democratic Caucus both declined to comment Friday.

Bright Matthews has ignored repeated requests by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for comment on the issue.

Almost a dozen messages left on her cell phone, her campaign manager's cell phone and her email went unanswered during the past two weeks.

Bright Matthews, who owns her own law firm, has previously said her personal finances are not relevant to her would-be duties as a legislator.

Fernandez, a minister and owner of Supreme Clean industrial cleaning services, argues otherwise. State senators can have some of the most influence on the state's budget and its financial priorities each year, he and Moore said.

"If you're sitting here talking about improving schools and you're not paying your taxes, that's a bit hypocritical," Fernandez said. "When the state doesn't fulfill its budgetary responsibility, it could cause a shut down. We have a responsibility to keep the system going.

"If you can't do that at home, how are you going to do it for the state?" he continued. "Those things should have been paid for before she even considered running for office."

Bright Matthews and her husband's home on Jones Swamp Road was sold at Colleton County's delinquent tax sale in December after they failed to pay two years of taxes on it.

If the couple does not pay to redeem the property by Dec. 4, its deed will be turned over to the winning bidder, Lightsey said.

Bright Matthews told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last month that the property was not auctioned off by the county and that the couple had not received any notification from the tax office stating as much.

But all tax records show otherwise.

She has not addressed the issue publicly since.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach and on Facebook at facebook.com/IPBGZach.

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