Road builders to promote sales tax

Improvements to S.C. Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant are included on a proposed list of projects for Charleston County’s half-cent sales tax referendum.

A new group poised to begin promoting Charleston County’s $2.1 billion half-cent sales tax referendum is being financed largely by road-building interests.

Jim Rozier, former Berkeley County supervisor and former chairman of the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission, is leading the nonprofit group called Complete the Penny, which was formed in April to help get the plan on the Nov. 8 ballot, and promote it if that happens.

He said the group is largely being funded by people and companies connected to the road-building industry, including engineering and paving companies, but didn’t specify which companies or how much money the group has raised.

Charleston County Council on Tuesday will take an initial vote on whether to move forward with the referendum that would let voters approve or reject raising the sales tax to pay for roads, public transportation and green space. If it passes, council would have to vote two more times before giving it final approval. Meetings when such votes could take place are tentatively scheduled Thursday and July 28.

“There’s not a whole lot more we can do until they make a decision,” Rozier said. “We need some direction.”

He also said the Coastal Conservation League had pledged money to the group. The league is pushing to have more money dedicated to preserving green space included in the referendum.

But Dana Beach, the league’s executive director, said he is not going to follow through with giving the group money because the completion of Interstate 526 has been included on a list of proposed projects, and because it’s now composed largely of road-building groups. His group is adamantly opposed to the highway extension.

“We are not going to put a dime toward it,” Beach said of Complete the Penny.

He talked to representatives from Complete the Penny in the group’s early days, and he assumed there would be many different kinds of organizations that were part of it, “good government groups, not just road-building interests,” he said.

“If all this is is a band of road builders, then it doesn’t pass the smell test,” Beach said. “I guess I was naive.”

Rozier said his group is gearing up for action.

“If they are going to put it on the ballot, we have work to do,” he said. The message the group wants to get across, he said, is “If you pass the half-penny, you’ll notice some difference in the traffic.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.