MYRTLE BEACH -- State legislators should stop pursuing incentives to attract retailers to S.C. communities, according to Gov. Mark Sanford, who last week said the unfair subsidies hurt the overall economy.
Sanford said incentives unfairly benefit certain retailers, giving them an unfair advantage and that stores will come regardless of incentives if they can make money. He referenced recent efforts to attract Bass Pro Shop to Greenville and a $400 million mall to Jasper County in a speech to a small crowd at Tanger Outlets on U.S. Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach.
Sanford praised Tanger Outlets for succeeding without any incentives.
"I have to give the Tanger folks credit. They've built three sets of shopping centers now ... without incentives," Sanford said. "If you then give incentives to other folks, their competitors, what you're doing is hurting the folks that built these things without incentives."
The debate focuses around a bill offering a $9 million incentive to attract Bass Pro Shop to Greenville. That bill is being rewritten in the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee. In Myrtle Beach, a Bass Pro Shop successfully opened in 2004 without incentives, another example of why such measures are unnecessary, Sanford said.
Another Senate proposal earlier this year would have given state tax money to Sembler Co., which wants to build a $400 million shopping center in Jasper County, but that provision was stripped from a bill in March and replaced with local tax incentives.
This is not Sanford's first fight over the incentives. A similar debate began in 2006 over a plan to offer Cabela's, an outdoor supply store, a $9 million incentive to open a store in North Charleston, said Ben Fox, the governor's communications director. The bill passed the legislature in two consecutive years and was met with Sanford's veto each time. In both cases, the state legislature overrode Sanford's veto, he said.
Cabela's ultimately never opened a store, so did not take advantage of the incentives. Sanford said he would use his veto power on any similar provisions.
The incentives are not given out to benefit the economy, but to satisfy powerful lobbyists, said Ashley Landess, president of the S.C. Policy Council think tank.
"What is not working is a few politicians closing the door in Columbia and giving away public dollars to those special interests that hire the right lobbyists," Landess said.