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Mark Sanford may be Charleston's congressman, but he's still throwing stones at a tax break he couldn't stop as governor.
Sanford on Friday continued his criticism of the 2006 Statehouse legislation that will bring a mega-size Bass Pro Shops retail outlet to North Charleston next year.
As Sanford sees it, providing the incentive created an unlevel playing field that will force smaller, local outdoor-gear sellers to subsidize their big box competition.
"The question as a matter of policy is: should we be paying for it and at what price?" Sanford, R-S.C., said.
Sanford was the invited guest speaker for the group Lowcountry Local First. He said his appearance had nothing to do with his current status as a member of Congress and that going to Washington doesn't stop him from speaking out against bad public policy.
But Sanford's interest in the now eight-year-old state tax break has once again drawn the ire of North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who said the incentive will create hundreds of jobs and bring in tens of thousands of new shoppers.
Sanford, he said, is still meddling in local matters when he should be concentrating on the federal ones he was elected to fix.
"(Sanford) has the right to his own opinion and can express his view," Summey added. "I'm not interested in it."
Bass Pro Shops, considered one of the world's largest providers of fishing, hunting and camping gear, is scheduled to build a 130,000- to 150,000-square-foot outdoor recreation store at the Ingleside development planned between Interstate 26 and Palmetto Commerce Parkway, near U.S. Highway 78.
Under the state tax break incentive deal it is using, the chain would essentially keep half the sale tax revenue it generates for 15 years. The business would have to meet certain conditions, however, including the company investing $25 million and that it draw at least 35 percent of the store's visitors from as far as 50 miles away.
The sales tax break has been available since 2006, when North Charleston was pursuing a Cabela's store. Then-Gov. Sanford twice vetoed the incentive, but the Legislature overrode the vetoes both times.
Summey said the ripple effect could be great, given the increased visitation the store will bring along with the other business growth that's expected, including hotels and restaurants.
"We think this has the potential to be the second-largest Bass Pro Shops in the country, second to their home headquarters in Missouri," Summey said. The targeted opening date is Black Friday next year, he said.
Sanford said Friday his aim in criticizing the package now is to get business owners and other South Carolina taxpayers to contact their lawmakers in the hopes of stopping it from being used again. The 20 or so people at the meeting overwhelmingly sided with him in opposing what they characterized as state-granted corporate welfare.
"It's not just them showing up, it's them getting paid to show up," said Scott Hammond, a manager at the Haddrell's Point fish and tackle store in West Ashley, of the deal given to Bass Pro Shops.
Added Phil Rose, a developer with Twin River Capital, "I don't think it's right to give preferences."
Rose said giving incentives to nationally focused retailers is much different than giving state lures to a company like Boeing, since airplane plants have no mom-and-pop competitors in the state.
Summey, meanwhile, said the entire debate shows that Sanford can't let go of his former role as South Carolina governor.
"In politics we all win some and we lose some, and then we move on to the next issue," he said. "Undoubtedly he's not able to move on."
Summey added, "The only thing I can figure is he has aspirations for state office again; I can't figure out what that will be."
Sanford has said he has no desire to return to the Governor's Mansion.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
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