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Municipal Madness: Spartanburg SC

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One of the 150-plus municipal elections on tap this week in South Carolina involves a proposed tax hike on residents of Spartanburg County, S.C.  Spartanburg is one of only four counties in the Palmetto State (Beaufort, Greenville and Oconee are the others) that currently levies no local option sales tax – meaning residents pay only the six percent state sales tax.

That would change on May 1, 2018 if voters approve a 20 percent sales tax increase on this Tuesday’s ballot.

The proposed tax hike would ostensibly sunset on April 30, 2024 – but we all know what happens when tax hikes are passed, don’t we?  They never go away.

Spartanburg crony capitalists – supported by local Democratic, “Republican” and (get this) Tea Party leaders – say the new revenue is needed to pay for a new court house, police station, emergency operations center and several parking garages.

Total cost?  Approximately $240 million.

“The funds are going to be raised to support a core government service,” local Tea Party leader Karen Martin said last week at a pro-tax hike rally.

Really?  What kind of Tea Partier rallies in support of tax increases? 

Spartanburg limited government leaders Jim McMillan and his wife Michelle McMillan rebuked Martin for her stance.

“We fight every tax that comes along simply because we pay enough taxes, we believe in the real Tea Party platform – ‘Taxed Enough Already’ – and the people that spend our taxes have done so irresponsibly,” the McMillans wrote recently on social media.

They added that county leaders “can still raise your property tax even with a ‘penny sales tax’ in place.”

Are any of these tax hikes necessary?

Spartanburg County’s budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1 totaled $198 million – up from $189 million the previous fiscal year.  Local officials have also referenced the “improving local economy” in touting higher projected revenues for future years.

In a letter submitted to county council members last spring along with Spartanburg’s proposed 2016-2017 budget (.pdf), county administrator Katherine O’Neill noted that “revenues continue to grow, and while estimated conservatively, have now actually rebounded to the 2009 or pre-recession levels.”

So if county revenues are growing … why raise taxes?

Wouldn’t that put Spartanburg’s improving economy at risk?

“There is no talk of a consolidation of city and county government operations which would save enough to fund the palatial buildings,” one source opposing the referendum told us.

Spartanburg County has a history of failing to produce positive outcomes in the aftermath of tax and fee increases.

Over a decade ago, county leaders imposed a new $25 per vehicle “road fee” in an effort to improve its infrastructure.

“Driven around Spartanburg County lately?” one source asked us sarcastically.  “One would think we would be flush with enough cash for some nice shiny roads.  Most people in Spartanburg look to the west with the chronic ‘Greenville Envy,’ and yet the inept leadership and cronyism continues to be a drag on our struggle to progress.”

We’re also holding our breath to see how a massive tax hike on homes, vehicles and commercial/ rental property approved last spring improves academic outcomes for the county’s failing government-run schools.

That tax hike was billed as a $185 million increase, but as we noted in our coverage it could wind up draining half a billion dollars from county residents over the next three decades.

Incidentally, the Spartanburg County Tea Party was conspicuously absent from that debate …

UPDATE: By a sizable margin, the tax hike was approved …

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