Originally created 10/17/00

S.C. to kill car tax?



The lottery isn't the only referendum South Carolinians will be voting on Nov. 7. They'll also be voting on whether to eliminate or sharply reduce the car tax.

That ought to be a no-brainer. Who wouldn't want to curb a tax, particularly one as unpopular as the car tax? South Carolina is one of only 12 states that still levies a property tax on vehicles - and the tax is one of the highest of the dirty dozen.

There's been a consensus for years that it's got to be reformed, and voters will be given two options on how they'd like to deal with it.

One referendum would slash the vehicle levy by 43 percent over the next six years. This would mean instead of bringing in $600 million in revenues to help run local governments each year, it would bring in only $200 million - leaving a $400 million hole in annual budgets.

Critics of this proposal, which includes local governments and the state Chamber of Commerce, say if approved the tax cutback would force a sharp boost in property or business taxes.

This is why option two on the ballot calls for eliminating the car tax altogether, to be replaced by a local sales tax of up to two cents on the dollar - if local taxpayers approve.

County government officials across the state are understandably worried that if voters statewide kill off the car tax, local voters may not OK the sales tax, leaving city and county governments, including law-enforcement, with dangerous revenue shortfalls.

Even with no change in the vehicle tax, the Palmetto State is still one of the nation's lowest taxed states, so when South Carolina voters go to the polls next month, they've got to look at the consequences of their car tax vote. They won't be voting to cut taxes, so much as to juggle them. Are they sure that's what they want to do?

Whether voters slash the car tax or kill it outright, they are still going to have to replace the lost revenues from some other tax source or suffer an unacceptable decline in government services.