When you step into the voting booth on November 8th you will be asked if you support a half-cent sales tax increase to fund road projects, mass transit, and the greenbelt program. We are asking you to vote no.
The referendum, if passed, will put the local sales tax at 9% – the highest in the state, raising $2.1 billion over twenty-five years. With that much money at stake, the integrity of the elected officials who will manage it as well as the safeguards to ensure accountability and transparency have become increasingly relevant.
For months the Coastal Conservation League, other organizations, and the public made a concerted effort to work with Charleston County Council and community leaders to identify roads in need of capacity improvements, advocate for more funding to improve CARTA, fund a Bus Rapid Transit route along the I-26 corridor, and protect open space in our rural areas. We were proud of everyone’s work and optimistic that the cost-benefit analysis of the half-cent sales tax increase would demonstrate that real solutions to real problems in our community would be addressed.
That was before certain Charleston County Councilmembers lied to us and all of you. Through shady backroom deals and bait-and-switch tactics, certain elected officials began changing the project list that would be funded by the half-cent sales tax before the ink even dried on the ordinance.
Among other changes, the line item specifically allocating funding for mass transit (including CARTA and the Bus Rapid Transit project) was mysteriously deleted – and later added back in the form of a nonbinding resolution. Further, Chairman Elliott Summey promised $150 million to projects that the state was supposed to pay for (with zero public notice or input).
Unfortunately, it has become clear that County Council has lost our trust to handle $2.1 billion worth of taxpayer’s money. Further, this referendum does not provide the safeguards needed for the public to hold these decision-makers accountable.
We remain optimistic that we can spend the next two years, until the mid-term election, to improve the ordinance language and try again. In the interim, County Council must demonstrate to the taxpayers that they can earn back our trust by ensuring that any future half-cent sales tax referendum will provide transparency and accountability, and require County Council to stick to a list of projects that provide real solutions to our transportation and conservation needs.
Until then, we urge you to vote no on Charleston County’s half-cent sales tax resolution.
Land Use Director and Staff Attorney