COLUMBIA — As South Carolina lawmakers continue to debate tax breaks to lure the Carolina Panthers to build a new headquarters and practice facility in York County, the team's owner warned Wednesday the team will stay in Charlotte if the measure doesn't pass.
That came as the state Senate punted an all-important vote on the bill to Thursday, leaving the proposal's fate up in the air on the final day of the 2019 legislative session.
David Tepper, the billionaire businessman who owns the Charlotte-based NFL franchise, told reporters in Charlotte the team would like to build a new complex off Interstate 77 near Rock Hill but will need S.C. lawmakers to "help us out there" by approving about $115 million in tax breaks for the move.
"Quite frankly, it’s going to cost us a lot of money to go down to South Carolina," Tepper said, according to video posted by Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue.
"We’re going to have to put out real money down there, so it’s not like we get that money from South Carolina and that’s it," he said.
"They’ll have to make a decision whether they want it or not," Tepper added. "Otherwise, I’ve got a bubble. ... I’ve got a cafeteria building — I’ll stay in Charlotte. I can stay home." The Panthers are adding a bubble over one of its practice fields next to Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte.
With vote possibly coming today in Panthers tax breaks bill in SC senate, Tepper’s comments essentially are a “ball is in your court” mood - pic.twitter.com/fjQpsAwh36— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) May 8, 2019
Tepper's comments come as lawmakers in the state Senate continue to quibble over the tax incentives package.
Gov. Henry McMaster has urged the Legislature to approve a change in state law that would allow corporate tax incentives to go to professional sports teams, and the House voted 90-25 to do so in March.
But senators have been more divided over the move. In a lengthy Senate floor speech Tuesday, Sen. Dick Harpootlian agreed to remove his hold on the bill but laid out in detail his complaints there has not been enough debate or transparency surrounding the package.
“This is a bad deal for South Carolina,” the Columbia Democrat said as he concluded more than 20 minutes of remarks. “This is a great state and we shouldn’t have to bribe people to come to it.”
Others took issue with the Senate fast-tracking a tax incentives package while other issues continue to languish.
"I don’t know that the 10,000 teachers that were here last week would feel too great about this being our priority all of a sudden," said state Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, referencing a large rally at the Statehouse last week urging lawmakers to act on education reform.
Lawmakers in the York County area have argued the move will provide a significant economic impact to the surrounding region and bring additional prestige to a state that already relies heavily on tourism.
On Wednesday, senators decided to postpone a more extensive debate and final vote on the bill to Thursday, the final day of the legislative session.
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, one of the chief supporters of bringing the practice facility to his home county, said he remains "cautiously optimistic" that the Senate will approve the tax breaks Thursday.
In response to concerns from some lawmakers the facility would boost one area of the state over others, Simrill noted that he supported tax incentives to lure Boeing and Volvo to South Carolina even though they were not coming to his region, because he viewed them as beneficial for the whole state.
"For the taxpayers of South Carolina, this is a win no matter how you add or divide the numbers," said Simrill, R-Rock Hill, before referencing the Panthers' team motto: "Keep pounding."
Both supporters and opponents of the bill in the Senate said they expect the final vote to be close, setting up a dramatic final day in the Statehouse for a session that began in January.