By Paul Gable
The effort to renew state legislation that allows the Myrtle Beach tourism tax hit a bump this week in the SC House Ways and Means Committee.
The bill, S1122, originally introduced in the SC Senate in February 2016 by local senators Greg Hembree, Ray Cleary and Luke Rankin breezed through the Senate without a single no vote.
The SC House reported the bill out of the Ways and Means Committee with an important amendment that could have an interesting overall impact on whether the current one-cent local sales tax for tourism promotion gets renewed.
The Ways and Means Committee struck the provision that the tourism tax could be renewed (reimposed) by “an ordinance adopted by a supermajority of the municipal council which must be at least two-thirds of the members of the municipal council.”
The only provision remaining in the bill for reimposition of the tax is the “approval of a majority of qualified electors voting in a referendum held pursuant to this section called by a majority of the members of the municipal council.”
Myrtle Beach City Council imposed the tax on the general public in 2009 with a supermajority vote of council. The tax was never put before the voters in a referendum, allegedly for fear it would not pass.
If the amended bill successfully passes vote of the full House, it will be interesting to see if the elimination of the supermajority option to renew the bill withstands conference committee.
When it was first passed through an ordinance approved by a supermajority vote of Myrtle Beach City Council in 2009, the local option tourism development fee became the first and only local option sales tax (that’s what it is) to be enacted in the history of the state without a referendum vote of approval.
The result of the tax is the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce receives over $20 million public tax dollars each year to spend on out of area tourism advertising.
In other words, the Myrtle Beach City Council transferred the cost of marketing the area from the corporate budgets of the hotels, golf courses, restaurants and the like to a tax on the general public.
We have now heard seven years of “Oh yes, It’s working” propaganda ads from the Myrtle Beach Chamber promoting this boondoggle.
If we are going to continue giving away millions of public dollars for the benefit of private corporations, the least that should be required is a vote of the taxpaying public approving the transfer of funds from their pockets.