House passes sales tax voter option, heads to Senate

  • Thursday, May 29, 2014

Clyburn

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The S.C. General Assembly is moving closer to a sales tax legislative bill, but that measure itself doesn’t actually result in a one-cent sales tax hike in Aiken County or any other county in South Carolina.


The bill passed the S.C. House on May 22 and was to go to the Senate on Tuesday, May 27. If the Senate concurs, the bill will go to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature.


The legislation would give the Aiken County Board of Education the authority to ask voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase through a November referendum to fund new facility construction.


It’s important for citizens to understand, said S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, that a successful vote also would require the School Board to use 10 percent of the revenue to reduce property taxes.


“Whether it is this year or years from now, Aiken County taxpayers will appreciate having a sales tax option with property tax relief to consider for school capital improvements, instead of higher property taxes for those improvements,” said Young.


“We’ll get (the House bill) in the Senate next Tuesday,” Young said. “We’ve fought for several weeks to get to (this) point.”


If the Senate does not concur with the House version of the legislation, the bill would go to a conference committee of three senators and three House members to sort things out.


“We’ve only got six days left in the session,” said Young. “If the bill is going to be passed, it has to be by June 5 at 5 p.m. But I’m encouraged the legislation will still pass.”


Not surprisingly, School Board Vice Chairman Levi Green and Board members Richard Hazen and Keith Liner were delighted to learn about the House’s approval of the legislation. Green cited the efforts of Young and the other Aiken County Legislation Delegation members to work on the bill’s behalf. If a penny sales referendum were to pass, the School District would renovate and rebuild Aiken High School and North Augusta High School in 10 years.


“We have to go through the public to get the penny approved,” Green said. “We want to afford that opportunity to the citizens of Aiken County.”


Deliberations in the Senate and more recently, the House, had to get through a lot of hoops, said S.C. Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken.


Young had to continually add new amendments to alleviate a wide range of concerns from other senators about the legislation.


Once the bill was approved in the Senate, Young and other Aiken lawmakers hoped the House would send a “clean bill” back to the Senate without changes.


However, the House bill that is returning to the Senate does have changes. S.C. Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, wants Anderson County to have the opportunity to seek a new one-cent sales tax increase. S.C. Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, doesn’t agree with that proposal for the county.


However, House members Rep. Bill Clyburn, R-Aiken, and Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, have said that White won’t prevent Aiken County from getting the bill through.


Four years ago, School Board members moved forward with a referendum that through property taxes would have raised $236 million for new construction and renovations throughout the county. That election failed by a huge margin.


“We started coming up with the sales tax ideas after the 2010 election,” said Board member Richard Hazen. “We felt the public would consider a penny sales tax.”


The Aiken legislators took a strong interest in getting the bill done to this point, Liner said. “It shows some good collaboration between us and the delegation,” he said.


Senior writer Rob Novit is the education reporter.


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