Local leaders call for half-cent sales tax support

Local and state elected officials ask voters to support a $2.1 billion half-cent sales tax referendum for roads, public transit and green space. Diane Knich/Staff

With less than a week before the Nov. 8 election, local and state leaders on Wednesday came out in support of Charleston County's $2.1 billion half-cent sales tax referendum for roads, public transit and green space.

A group of supporters gathered during the morning rush hour along Savannah Highway in West Ashley to promote increasing the sales tax from 8.5 percent to 9 percent to set aside the money.

Those attending included Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and former mayor Joe Riley; North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey; Charleston County Council members Herb Sass and Colleen Condon; state Rep. Chip Limehouse and state Sen. Marlon Kimpson; Charleston City Councilman and CARTA board chairman Mike Seekings; and representatives from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Realtors Association. 

Sass said the county's 2004 referendum has been a success so far, and the money has been handled responsibly.

"We have a record of pulling through," he said. 

Condon said the money would help alleviate traffic problems in West Ashley by improving Savannah Highway and the Glenn McConnell Parkway. 

Summey said the countywide improvements would not only help people get to and from work more efficiently, they also would allow first-responders to move more quickly, which would make the region safer.

"We've waited for the state and waited for the state (to make improvements)," he said, "and it hasn't gotten done."

The gathering demonstrated the referendum has community and business support, Tecklenburg said. "We have to take control of our own destiny."

But some groups in recent weeks have come out in opposition to the referendum, including the Coastal Conservation League, the League of Women Voters and several citizens' groups. They contend the county has too much flexibility in how the money will be used, and they are concerned about which projects actually will be funded and completed.

The county has compiled a list of several major road projects that could receive attention if the sales tax passes, but county officials have cautioned that list and the project details could evolve with further study.

Sass said the controversial completion of Interstate 526 is not part of the referendum, and he thinks it never should have been. Extending Interstate "526 and this are two separate issues," he said. 

Tecklenburg said a proposal to use $150 million from the half-cent sales tax to pay for rail overpasses near the new port terminal in North Charleston - in exchange for the state allowing the county to move forward with I-526 - also is off the table. The arrangement won't be brought up again in the future, he said.

"It's not possible."

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

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