Voters in 15 South Carolina counties - including Charleston - will have the opportunity to vote in November's general election on whether to impose local sales taxes for public school construction. It's a fair and reasonable way for the taxpayers to decide the matter for themselves.
What was not reasonable was the last minute effort to deny voters that right on the basis of anti-tax sentiment. Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, very nearly derailed the bill with a five-hour filibuster on the last day of the legislative session. He later stated that it would be "an intrusion on the freedom of the taxpayer to spend his/her own money as they see fit."
Actually, holding a referendum allows the taxpayers to do just that. And while school advocates back the vote and the projects that the sales tax would support in each county, they won't be making the decision. Nor will the elected school boards.
The voters will make the call after hearing arguments, pro and con. Those include the necessity for new schools, and the inadequacy of existing facilities. And of course, the decision also will be influenced by their current tax burden.
Sen. Larry Grooms, who worked to get the bill passed, said most local taxpayers prefer to pay for capital projects with a sales tax than a property tax increase. Mr. Grooms, a Republican, represents Berkeley and Charleston counties.
In counties where the tourist economy is strong, the case for the sales tax is bolstered by the significant contribution of visitors to sales tax coffers. In Charleston, for example, tourists pay an estimated 30 percent of the local option sales taxes which have been used to fund school projects, pay for roads and buy green space.
It's a hard argument to counter if elected officials can make a good case for need, and if the economy isn't in a tailspin.
Sen. Bryant described the local option sales tax as more evidence of the government's "unquenchable appetite for your money." Voters can be the judge of whether that is true in this instance.
You don't have to like the prospect of a sales tax hike to support the referendum process.
Gov. Nikki Haley doesn't support the idea, but said, after signing the bill into law, "I believe that voters should be given the power to make these decisions themselves."
After all, it's their money.
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