No one can accuse Elliott Summey of being a typical timid, pandering politician.
In the middle of tough economic (and political) times, the Charleston County Council vice chairman has chosen to be the poster boy for a $1 billion tax increase. That takes guts … or something.
Summey wants Charleston County voters to decide in November whether to raise the half-cent transportation sales tax to a full penny on the dollar. Over the proposed 25-year life of that tax, it would raise an estimated $1.35 billion for local road projects.
Some of Summey’s County Council colleagues were quick to criticize the last-minute nature of this major decision. See, council would have to vote to put it on the ballot by Aug. 15 — or wait two years for another general election. They’re right, this is not a decision that can be made without a big discussion.
So let’s talk about it.
So many roads ...
Summey can list enough road problems to break anyone but Bain Capital:
There’s the interchange at Interstates 26 and 526; the unfunded port access road; the intersection of Main Road and Highway 17; tens of millions in Mount Pleasant road and stormwater improvements; and all those intersections on Johns Island that have helped spur talks for a greenway.
County bookshelves are filled with studies of things we need, and they are all collecting dust. “We’ve got more traffic problems than a community our size ought to have,” Summey says. “Are we going to wallow in our problems like a pig in slop, or are we going to do something about it?”
He’s right. Our roads look like South Florida’s. Maybe that’s why all those folks from Ohio settle here — they think they’re already in Miami.
His argument for this local tax is that you can no longer depend on the state or federal government to pay for all this. It’s a fair point. But he not only has to convince more than 50 percent of voters, he has to persuade at least four other council members.
So little cash ...
This tax would cost an extra 25 cents on a $50 purchase.
Summey says that getting tourists and shoppers from Berkeley and Dorchester counties to pay part of the tab is much more palatable than increasing property tax for county residents.
And he’s smart to offer provisions to make sure none of the money goes to the 526 extension or Kiawah’s greenway. That would kill this quicker than Joe Biden can shut down an interstate.
Still, Summey is well aware that that sort of talk is going to raise the ire of tea party types, and even some of his own colleagues. If they decide to send out a posse on a RINO hunt, so be it.“I don’t want to just fill a chair,” Summey says. “I’m supposed to address our problems and if voters don’t like how I do it and don’t vote to keep me around, I’m OK with that.”
So the battle lines are drawn and Thursday the entire council will discuss this in a Finance Committee meeting. If they move forward, we will talk about little else locally for the next three months.
Whatever happens with this tax, that’s not a bad thing.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.