Lawmaker fights bill clearing way for Aiken tax

 

COLUMBIA — A state senator 100 miles away might hold the fate of a tax that would benefit schools in Aiken County.

Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson County Re­publican, is prepared to kill a bill that would allow voters to add a penny sales tax, while receiving property tax relief, in order to fund school building improvements.

The bill, S. 940, has cleared both chambers and passed through a conference committee. But Anderson County was recently added to the list of eligible counties for the referendum.

“I’ve got an objection to it, because the county I represent can’t afford a $206 million tax increase,” Bryant said Friday.

The legislation requires voters to decide whether to impose the tax, but that doesn’t change anything for Bryant.

“I’m concerned about the special interests that get involved in these sort of things,” he said. “I promised the voters I’d not only vote against a tax increase, I’d lay in front of the tracks of one.”

He said he understands Aiken lawmakers don’t want to see the bill die, and he suggested taking Anderson County out of it. He’d let his filibuster go in that case, but still vote against the bill.

“I don’t think Aiken County needs a tax increase either,” Bryant said. “But I wouldn’t go nuclear like I am since Anderson’s been included.”

Thursday marked the last day of the session, but lawmakers will return in about two weeks to consider the governor’s vetoes and other specific bills.

Rep. Brian White, another Anderson Republican, said local officials asked for the county to be included.

“It was pretty unanimous from my recollection,” said the lawmaker, who served on the conference committee. “Sen. Bryant just doesn’t seem to want to let the people have their opportunity to vote it up or down.”

Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, said Friday that he expects work to continue on the bill.

“When you’ve got a chamber, a body, that one person can kill the whole piece of legislation that everybody is interested in, it’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?” said Smith, another of the six conferees.

As for the bill’s chances, Smith said: “It’s a matter of waiting and seeing, but I feel like we’ll get it done.”

If the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, passes and district voters approve the sales tax in November, it would generate an estimated $16 million to $20 million annually for construction and upgrades.

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