In the waning session of the S.C. General Assembly, legislators approved and sent to the governor non-controversial, comprehensive mo-ped reform and also overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of legislation allowing Myrtle Beach to extend for another ten years a one-cent sales tax. The added penny raises millions of dollars for marketing tourism, real estate tax credits for city residents and capital improvements.
While there is widespread agreement on the need to regulate the pesky mo-peds – for years completely unregulated and outside the traffic laws governing other vehicles – many have objected to extending the sales tax without voters having a say via referendum.
Throughout South Carolina, mopeds have frustrated law enforcement officers as well as all who drive S.C. roads. It’s difficult to imagine motorists who have not experienced moped mutterings as they are delayed by the slow-moving two-wheelers bearing only a MOPED label where motorcycles, for example, display a state license tag.
Sen. Greg Hembree of Little River, the former solicitor for Georgetown and Horry counties, has worked on mo-ped regulation for the four years he has served as a state senator representing Horry and Dillon counties. One of the concerns is traffic officers’ inability to cite (write tickets) inebriated mo-ped operators. Because mo-peds are not covered by the traffic code, DUI violations don’t apply.
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The need for reform was recognized in both the House and Senate. Hembree says the bill sent to the governor will subject “mo-peds to the same traffic regulations as vehicles and motorcycles.” Mo-peds must be registered and licensed and operators must be licensed and at least 15 years of age. The two-wheelers would be restricted to “roads with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour or less.”
Tourism sales tax
The added penny on retail sales in the city of Myrtle Beach dates to 2009 when the legislature allowed the city council to impose the added tax, by city council action, as a means of promoting tourism in the wake of the Recession of 2008. For two years, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce received all the revenue from the one-cent tax.
After the two years, the city has received 20 percent of the revenue, providing nearly $18 million for property tax credits for nearly 6,000 homeowners and $8.5 million for tourism-related capital improvements. These include replacement of dunes crossovers for beachgoers, a new oceanfront park at 15th Avenue North. and the Third Avenue South Gateway.
The 80 percent going to the chamber amounts to about $20 million a year. The numbers illustrate the huge economic impact of retail sales. So, with the recession largely in the rear-view mirror, why the tax? Mayor John Rhodes and MBACC president Brad Dean point to growing numbers of new tourists. Rhodes says, “We have to have resources to promote the area, to compete with Virginia Beach and other places in Florida.”
Haley’s position, in explaining her veto, overridden handily, is that all local tax increases “should be allowed only if the citizens subject to the tax agree to it through public referendum.” It’s worth nothing that a sales tax, regressive to begin with, affects millions of people beyond residents of the city – including visitors and area folks not city residents but who certainly spend money in the city.
Through the sales tax, all visitors to Myrtle Beach help pay for city services they receive, directly or indirectly. City homeowners receiving tax credits probably don’t think about the fact that less well-off homeowners and those paying rentals are helping finance the real estate tax credits. It’s highly unlikely homeowners would want to lose their property tax credits.
However valid objections may be, legislators have extended until 2029 the one-cent sales tax. Like it or not, that added penny will stick around.