By Paul Gable
A bill to amend South Carolina law on hospitality tax, pre-filed November 20, 2019 by four members of the Horry County legislative delegation, will not serve the general interests of Horry County citizens if it ever becomes law.
The bill, H 4745, sponsored by Reps. Alan Clemmons, Heather Ammons Crawford, Russel Fry and Tim McGinnis, is specifically designed to collect approximately $43 million per year in hospitality fee revenue specifically for the Interstate 73 project.
The bill was pre-filed one day after Horry County Council voted unanimously to cancel its Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The agreement would have funded I-73 at up to $25 million annually.4745 is an expansion on a bill, H. 4597, filed just before the legislative session for 2019 ended last May. H. 4597 was filed after the cities filed a lawsuit against the county to stop collection of the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee within the limits of the respective municipalities in the county.
H 4745 is an expansion on a bill, H. 4597, filed just before the legislative session for 2019 ended last May. H. 4597 was filed after the cities filed a lawsuit against the county to stop collection of the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee within the limits of the respective municipalities in the county.
Both bills are designed to allow Horry County to resume collecting the 1.5% ‘legacy’ hospitality fee. Horry County is the only county in the state that has continuously collected the 1.5% countywide ‘legacy’ hospitality fee until stopped by the lawsuit.
The need for the second bill appears to be that H. 4597 allows the 1.5% hospitality fee revenue to be used on all the tourism related purposes as defined in S.C. Code of Laws Section 6-1-730. Those purposes include police, fire, emergency medical services, roads, highways, streets and bridges and recreation facilities which are tourism related.
The second bill limits uses of the hospitality fee revenue to interstate infrastructure, interstate interchanges and roads that directly connect to an interstate until no viable interstate highway projects remaining in the county.
When the cities filed suit against the county the cities all enacted 2% hospitality taxes and 3% accommodations taxes to be collected within their respective taxing jurisdictions. The 1.5% legacy hospitality fee could be collected on top of those taxes, according to the provisions of the bills.
Why is the answer promoted by these supposed ‘conservative’ legislators more taxes piled upon existing taxes locally while excess revenue already collected at the state level will be used for pork elsewhere?
It is expected H. 4597 will be allowed to die in Columbia as H. 4745 is much more restrictive in the uses of the revenue and more directly applies to the objective of Clemmons, Crawford, Fry and McGinnis – namely, provide funding from Horry County for I-73 at the expense of other potential uses of the revenue that would benefit the immediate needs of the county, the cities and the citizens.
Once again these four legislators are attempting to dictate to Horry County to establish funding for I-73 rather than attempting to do their job in Columbia of acquiring state funding for the project. Maybe it’s an indirect admission by these four legislators that they know they will not be able to acquire any of the $2 Billion excess revenue the state will collect this year for I-73.
As it has for other interstate projects both within and without South Carolina, funding for I-73 should come from the state and federal budgets. It should not fall to the citizens and visitors of Horry County to fund a major portion of the project.
There are plenty of uses allowed by 6-1-730, which would also benefit local citizens and which would reduce the property tax burden of local citizens. If the legacy hospitality fee is to be collected within Horry County it seems only fair to use the revenue to benefit local citizens as well as tourism related projects.
Local citizens pay hospitality fees on prepared food and beverages, including all purchases from a delicatessen, meals at all restaurants, the cup of coffee or other beverage and/or snack from a convenience store, ticket admissions and rental cars to name just a few.
Why shouldn’t at least some of the revenue generated by these local purchases be used to benefit local citizens on a daily basis with road improvements, flooding mitigation, bridge repair and public safety funding to name a few areas of need?
It won’t be if Clemmons, Crawford, Fry and McGinnis have their way.