Editorials

Sales tax proposals should be separated

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney said in June he would try again to get retail sales tax incentives into law.

So it's not surprising that he has reintroduced a bill that would allow allow municipalities to opt for a local sales tax to pay for some infrastructure at private shopping centers.

Pinckney has indicated the bill was reintroduced as a matter of course, but we would be surprised if he didn't push for its passage.

Unfortunately, the second half of the bill would allow a local-option sales tax for tourism marketing.

Because of the way the bill is written, that section only applies to Beaufort County.

Beaufort County's state senator, Tom Davis, says he is opposed to the tourism marketing sales tax and will move to have it removed from the bill.

We hope that happens. Special legislation is unconstitutional in almost all instances, and levying an additional tax for tourism marketing -- even with the possibility of a property tax rebate -- is not a good idea when many people continue to struggle financially. Sales taxes hit hardest those who can least afford them.

Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce officials, who pushed for a tourism marketing tax last session, say they're not supporting this latest endeavor.

David Tigges, the chamber's board chairman, said the chamber would not lobby for it because the chamber might instead support a local-option sales tax to benefit the Heritage golf tournament.

That idea isn't gaining traction and no bill has been introduced, so the chamber's actions on the Pinckney bill bear watching.

The retail tax incentive portion of the bill was a result of a hard-fought battle over tax incentives for the Okatie Crossings center in Hardeeville, a project whose proposed location straddles Beaufort and Jasper counties.

Although this iteration of the incentives proposal is much different than last year's original sales tax rebate, offering tax incentives for retail development still is not a good idea. We maintain that given the nature and pay scale of retail jobs, and the hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space already built in this area, such an incentive is likely to produce a shift in jobs and not a net gain.

The Jasper County senator's bill would allow municipalities by referendum or a super-majority vote of council to levy an additional local sales tax at retailers in a "designated economic development site" that meets certain criteria for overall private investment and job creation. If approved by referendum, the sales tax could be no more than 2 percent, and if approved by ordinance, no more than 1 percent.

The thresholds to be able to use the sales tax revenue for public infrastructure are fairly high, and they should stay that way -- or go up. The money could be used to pay for water and sewer service, parking lots and roads, fiber-optic cable and site preparation. It couldn't be used for land acquisition, buildings or fixtures.

The bill also includes a requirement that if the project falls into jurisdictions with differing stormwater management requirements or if the project affects waterways in adjoining jurisdictions, the strictest standards apply.

That would mean a shopping center in the Okatie Crossings area would have to meet Beaufort County's stricter stormwater management rules because of its potential impact on the nearby Okatie River.

If this bill moves ahead, the requirements for private investment and job creation and the environmental standards should not be weakened. And the tourism marketing sales tax should be severed from it.

That should be debated and stand on its own merits if lawmakers consider it.

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