RBC Heritage

Herbkersman bill would use $3M in accommodations taxes to fund the Heritage

S.C. Rep. Bill Herbkersman wants to add some substance to the shell of a bill he introduced earlier this year to save the Heritage golf tournament if no title sponsor is found.

Herbkersman on Wednesday proposed an amendment to the Heritage Golf Preservation Act, which previously contained only skeletal information about the economic impact of Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event.

The amendment, which lawmakers have not voted on, calls for the state use $3 million in accommodations taxes per year "to provide directly or indirectly for the sponsorship of the Heritage golf tournament ... until a suitable sponsor or sponsors are secured. ..."

To replenish the accommodations tax funds, the bill would convert up to $3 million of sales taxes generated by the tournament into accommodations taxes.

Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, said the plan is a fair way to preserve "a state treasure" that yielded more than $8.5 million in net revenue to South Carolina in 2010, according to a Clemson University study.

He said it would be prudent for South Carolina to use the $3 million to keep the tournament alive because the state has $8.5 million at risk if the tournament disappears.

"I think that's a pretty good bet," Herbkersman said.

The state would get some of the TV advertising time that would normally go to a title sponsor in exchange for committing about 1 percent of the approximately $300 million it collects in accommodations taxes each year, he said.

Herbkersman said he proposed the amendment Wednesday to provide lawmakers a chance to review it while they are on furlough next week.

Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said the bill's backers are not wedded to the current details of the proposal.

"It's just a starting point for discussion if, in the worst-case scenario, we have to do legislation and we don't have a sponsor," she said.

She said her colleagues have been invited to attend the tournament, which begins Thursday at Harbour Town Golf Links and runs through the following Sunday.

Since more than a dozen lawmakers requested debate on the bill after Herbkersman proposed the amendment, it has been placed on the House's contested calendar, Erickson said. She said the bill won't be voted on until lawmakers return from furlough, if at all.

Erickson said supporters of the tournament hope a replacement to previous title sponsor Verizon will appear in time to render the bill unnecessary. However, they wanted to have legislation in place just in case.

"We would be remiss if we didn't have a backup plan," she said.

Even though the tournament isn't held in her district, she said it's economic impact there is significant.

"We would see the repercussions across Beaufort County if we didn't have that tournament," she said.

It's not clear what would happen to the bill if it passes the General Assembly.

Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, could not be reached for comment late Thursday. He has previously said taxpayers should not "front the costs of a golf tournament" under any circumstances.

Herbkersman said he recently discussed the proposal with Haley's representatives but got "no feeling" whether the governor would support it.

Erickson said the bill's backers understand Haley's concern and attempted to address it by not involving "new taxes" in the proposal.

"We're doing our best to use what's already existing," she said.

S.C. Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, said he doubts Haley would go along with the proposal.

"I firmly believe the governor would veto this bill if it came to her desk," Patrick said.

Patrick said he is reluctant to comment on the bill as Haley and top state officials continue to search for a private sponsor.

He said he is confident they will be successful and doesn't want discussion of a backup plan to get in their way.

"I'm going to allow (Haley) to take the ball and run with it," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Heritage Classic Foundation declined comment on the bill late Thursday.

If the state were to provide $3 million, that would not be enough to fully sponsor the tournament.

Tournament organizers secured this year's date on the tour's schedule without a title sponsor by pledging all $4 million of their reserves and securing $1 million commitments from both Hilton Head and Beaufort County.

County Councilman Stu Rodman has since proposed a separate plan to use $30 million in state, local and private money if necessary to keep the tournament on Hilton Head for five years.