Raise Taxes First, Think of Ways to Spend It Second

August 5, 2014

Inside Insight

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coins, penniesWHO WANTS TO SAY NO TO BOOKS AND CHILDREN?

Which should come first: the idea for a new tax, or a concrete demonstration of the need for a new tax?

In my own county, the cart came way before the horse. Some months ago, our overworked and underpaid county council (long story – they think they need more pay) came up with the idea that Abbeville County needs to pass a referendum enabling the “capital projects sales tax,” a levy that 13 other South Carolina counties already impose.

This tax, an “extra penny on the dollar” when we shop here in the county, is for the specific purpose of financing things like roads, bridges, recreation facilities, water/sewer improvements, and the very vague “public facilities,” according to the state Department of Revenue. In accordance with state law, a commission has been created to come up with the specific things the tax would pay for. Each proposal has to be enumerated on our ballots in November.

It’s funny. Suddenly, since a new revenue stream has been unearthed by the county council, we apparently have a myriad of things we need to finance. According to published reports, we need at least three new fire stations in the county, in order to keep homeowners’ insurance rates low. This is according the Insurance Services Office, or ISO, a nonprofit organization that the insurance industry uses to tell local governments how to run their business.

That’s just for starters. Every area of the county seems to want a piece of the pie. In the July 30 edition of the Press and Banner, Abbeville’s weekly newspaper, a front page article revealed that the following want their fair share:

Due West: money for a park.

Donalds: community center.

Donalds/Due West Water Authority: various projects not specified in the article.

Calhoun Falls: funds for a storage building on their Lake Russell project.

I haven’t heard of any proposals for any city of Abbeville projects yet, but I am sure that Councilman Delano Freeman, who nominated himself to serve on this commission, will make sure that the city’s piece of the pie is considered.

It should be noted that Abbeville County has since 1992 imposed the local option sales tax, which ups our tax to 7 percent. If passed, this referendum will bump us up to 8 percent on virtually everything except non-prepared food. In the city of Abbeville, however, there is the “hospitality” tax, possibly the world’s greatest misnomer; and if my wife and I choose to go to the famous Roughhouse on Court Square to enjoy a hotdog, we will shell out a whopping 10 percent total tax on our food bill.

The mantra around here is to “shop local.” Yeah, right. In my semi-retirement, I still commute to Greenwood five days a week. If this referendum passes, I can save 2 percent on every purchase I make there. What would you do?

The real issue, however, is not about that extra penny (or rather those hundreds of thousands of extra pennies). It’s about the heart-wrenching tactics the county will use to get this bill passed: volunteer fire departments, parks and recreation for the “children,” water/sewer projects. Who can vote against worthwhile things like these? The county fathers, whom I previously dubbed the “seven wise men” in a Press and Banner opinion piece, used a similar tactic a few years ago by wedding a multimillion-dollar bond to renovate the old hospital building for a county office complex with another million for a new library. It passed. Who wants to vote against books?

I predict this referendum will pass, too. Council will tug at voters’ heartstrings, and more money will pass from the givers to the takers. As for me and my house, I think we’ll just shop elsewhere.

Editor’s Note: Maxwell is a retired postal manager and retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, having served in various assignments in military intelligence. He earned a B.A. degree in English from Lander University, and holds diplomas in both Hungarian and Russian language from the Defense Language Institute.