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January 6, 2017

Inside Insight, Uncategorized

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BY PHILLIP CEASE

Porta Pottie Line Up

Port-a-potties need a break — we’ve all thought that, right?

There’s another bathroom bill. This one’s been pre-filed for the upcoming session of the state legislature. Hold your noses, because it deals with a tax exemption for… port-a-potties.

Portable toilet rentals and leases are already exempt from sales taxes in South Carolina for 70 percent of the cost. If H. 3095 were to pass, 100 percent would be sales tax-free, including any gross proceeds from the service of the toilet or other maintenance.

Before you pooh-pooh this, consider: If the portable toilet industry is not the best example of a special interest, admittedly one ripe for puns, then I don’t know what is.

Typically, the idea behind tax breaks or increases is to modify behavior. In 2010, when the cigarette tax was increased, one reason supporters cited was that the more it cost to smoke, the more it would discourage people from smoking.

Likewise, tax breaks, in the form of credits, exemptions or deductions, are meant to encourage an activity. In the case of H. 3095, the behavior encouraged is the rental or lease of portable toilets. Why is an increase in port-a-potty rentals a public good? Is it because it means fewer people will just make like bears?

We’re stumped. And the state tax code is riddled with sales tax exemptions like this. From hearing aids to timeshares, there are multiple examples where instead of taxes being lowered for all South Carolinians, one industry or company mysteriously gets a break.

When the legislature debates H. 3095 or any other bill which would carve out an exemption for one industry, let’s hope it remembers that every dollar it exempts from special interests is one more dollar that the rest of us must pay. Otherwise, most taxpayers will keep getting, yes, a crappy deal.