COLUMBIA — Nine South Carolina senators want to review millions of dollars in economic incentives handed out to businesses in the state following a dispute over proposed tax benefits to lure the Carolina Panthers' headquarters and practice facility to the state.
The bipartisan group, led by Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, asked legislative auditors on Friday to analyze 10 years of business incentives the state extended to corporations to lure them to South Carolina.
The move could put the S.C. Department of Commerce, which is responsible for managing the state's business recruitment efforts, in the crosshairs of the Legislature.
The senators asked the auditors to assess how many businesses the Department of Commerce assisted over the past decade, and to determine whether those companies followed through on their promises to create hundreds of new jobs.
"Did we get the jobs we were promised, and what were the incentives?" Harpootlian said. "I want to see every one of these deals."
The letter requesting the audit was also signed by Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield; and Sens. Wes Climer, R-Rock Hill; Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville; Chip Campsen, R-Charleston; John Scott, D-Columbia; Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden; Shane Martin, R-Pauline; Tom Davis, R-Beaufort; and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
The audit request coincides with an ongoing dispute over up to $115 million in proposed tax breaks Gov. Henry McMaster says is needed to convince the Panthers to build a new $150 million headquarters and practice fields in York County.
The Panthers plan to have 150 employees, including players and coaches, with a $190 million annual payroll, state leaders said.
The House overwhelmingly passed legislation to extend that incentive to the NFL team. But Harpootlian has held up the proposal in the Senate and requested more information about the deal.
The final vote on the tax breaks for the Panthers won't be stalled by the audit, he said.
The episode, however, was responsible for pushing the senators to take a closer look at the money and tax breaks that the state showers on corporations every year.
The governor's office encouraged lawmakers Friday to go even further by reviewing 16 years of records from the Department of Commerce. In that way, the senators could review the work of the agency under McMaster and former Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.
"The governor fully supports the legislative branch’s oversight role provided by state law, but he honestly doesn’t believe Senator Harpootlian’s request goes far enough to get an accurate picture of the Department of Commerce’s accomplishments," said Brian Symmes, McMaster's spokesman.
It's unclear how many companies received financial assistance from the state over that time period.
Any review is likely to include massive deals, such as the millions of dollars in incentives the state extended to aircraft manufacturer Boeing and car maker Volvo.
The state Department of Commerce did not respond Friday to questions.
Hutto said the audit is necessary to review the state's track record when it comes to job creation and investment. The senators asked to review 10 years of economic deals, he said, in order to properly judge how the Department of Commerce is performing.
"If you want to get a full picture, you are going to have to look back over time," he said.