Point-of-Sale Bill Continues to Stir Debate

February 10, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveJane Page Thompson
Citizen Reporter

Proponents of H 3272 ask a simple question when discussing the point-of-sale bill: It is better to have part of something than all of nothing when houses and buildings do not sell, no taxes are collected and houses and buildings will not start selling until the property tax escalations stop?

But this concept has been hard for some members of our state Senate to grasp as that body continues to grapple with H 3272. Appearing to gain a bit of strength on the floor, point of sale was dubbed by some as a reform that was being rushed through by a special interest group.

Others see the reform, with its sunset provision for 2014, as a much-needed infusion to the state’s sagging real estate market, not to mention a possible jolt to the statewide economy.

Sen. Glenn McConnell, President Pro Tem of the Senate, said when asked when he expected point-of-sale debate to resume, “The House may rush through things and have their set times, but we here in the Senate like to slow it down and really look into an issue before we act.”

Like the Senate did with the Boeing deal, which amounted to many times the cost of point-of-sale reform and is isolated to just a few counties?

The $44 million estimated cost of H 3272 is a statewide figure based on potential home sales. This debate had been before the Senate in several forms for the last three sessions. Yet Boeing, a deal valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, was struck in emergency meetings a few days this fall.

And now they are on to Sembler, although they are at least giving that plan more scrutiny than some others, with estimates for incentives of between $40 million and $130 million. More government money spent on private business in a specific part of the state; What about some economic catalysts for taxpayers around the whole state?

Opponents of H 3272 continue bringing up “unintended consequences” as another factor spurring their desire to see changes to the content of the point-of-sale bill.

Yet, when asked what specific changes they were seeking, no one could answer. Sen. Thomas Alexander from Oconee has been working to reach a compromise between people in the real estate business and representatives from the cities, counties and school boards, but his efforts have been stalled by the fundamental problems that revert to Act 388.

The opposition wants to slow down and look into the issue more closely, to wait to see what TRAC recommends, yet it was the Senate that restricted TRAC from recommending changes to any part of Act 388 – how soon they forget!

County and municipal governments were warned not to count the point-of-sale “windfall” revenues in their fixed budget streams, but they did anyway.

The government-funded groups in opposition to H 3272 are pulling on heartstrings with concerns for teacher salaries, stating that the loss of sales tax revenue has already put a burden on their bottom lines.

Yet some of these same government groups switched logic and were using the real estate side’s arguments last summer to overturn blue laws in their local areas.

While the Municipal Association, Association of Counties and the state Department of Education hold-up point-of-sale reform, they are looking locally at ways to get their funding through other means: School improvement bonds, tax increment financing assessments, higher fees and fines for small business license holders, and cutting accountability measures.

Yet, fringe benefits are not being cut, they have no plans to consolidate school districts to save on administrative costs and they are still managing to pay their lobbyists.

All of these additional assessments, fees and increases could hit the already overburdened taxpayers this year, forcing more small business closures and job losses.

Jane Page Thompson is an accredited land consultant and realtor from Aiken. She is active in her community and is involved in local political party grassroots development.