Enquirer Herald

York Co. leaders told not to count on tax relief

York County business owners learned Wednesday not to expect any meaningful tax relief from the Legislature this year.

Area lawmakers said efforts such as reorganizing state government are taking most of their time. It's also the second of a two-year legislative cycle and an election year. The deliberative pace of the state Senate also slows the process, they said. Many of the initiatives passed by the House of Representatives last year are still awaiting Senate action, they said.

The result, heard by business owners who attended the 25th annual York County Day, is "nothing will be passed on tax reduction," said Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro. Any bills introduced "will lay the foundation for next year."

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said a "handful of items to make South Carolina competitive" will be filed in the House. But as for any comprehensive tax reform, "we've learned that massive legislative bills collapse under its weight."

More than 120 business owners, elected leaders and representatives from the city of Rock Hill and York County governments attended the afternoon-long event. Other speakers included Sen. Hugh Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and member of the state's Budget and Control Board, Darrell Scott, vice president for policy and communications for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and members of the local delegation: Reps. Ralph Norman, Tommy Pope and Gary Simrill and Sen. Wes Hayes.

The Legislature was in session Wednesday and other members of the delegation were at the State House.

Business owners, members of the chambers of commerce in York County, Clover, York and Lake Wylie, and local economic development officials reminded the legislators that high businesses taxes are a detriment to recruiting companies to the area or expanding existing ones.

South Carolina has the lowest residential property tax burden, said York County economic development director Mark Farris, but the highest business personal property taxes.

The legislators said one possibility this session was reducing the number of tax exemptions. Norman said 61 percent of the products in the state have some form of tax exemption.

Harrell said exemptions for prescription drugs, groceries and electricity for residents and manufacturing account would likely continue.

Other items discussed included:

The Catawba Indians' desire to open a casino. The delegation repeated its opposition to the tribe's plans, noting the settlement with state does not allow casino gambling.

Making sure South Carolina keeps its status as the first state in the South to hold a presidential primary. Harrell said he favored passing legislation requiring the political parties in the state to hold their primary before any other Southern state. Harrell said this would put pressure on the national parties and continue the state's record of "picking presidents." Harrell said candidates who campaign in South Carolina don't forget their experience here and pay attention the state when elected president.

Dredging the port of Charleston from 47 to 50 feet to be competitive with other ports seeking large container ships. The legislators stressed the importance of having the state's portion of the $300 million price - about $120 million - in reserve so that South Carolina can move quickly once a Corp of Engineers study is complete. The study is expected to take five years.