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Sanford: Retailers don't need tax breaks (with video)

State legislators should stop pursuing incentives to attract retailers to S.C. communities, according to Gov. Mark Sanford, who said Tuesday that the unfair subsidies hurt the overall economy.

Sanford said incentives unfairly benefit certain retailers, giving them an unfair advantage and that stores will come regardless of incentives if they can make money. He referenced recent efforts to attract Bass Pro Shops to Greenville and a $400 million mall to Jasper County in a speech at Tanger Outlets on U.S. 17.

Sanford praised Tanger Outlets for succeeding without any incentives.

"I have to give the Tanger folks credit. They've built three sets of shopping centers now ... without incentives," Sanford said.

"If you then give incentives to other folks, their competitors, what you're doing is hurting the folks that built these things without incentives."

The debate focuses around a bill offering a $9 million incentive to attract Bass Pro Shops to Greenville. That bill is now being rewritten in the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee. In Myrtle Beach, a Bass Pro Shops successfully opened in 2004 without incentives, another example of why such measures are unnecessary, Sanford said.

Another Senate proposal earlier this year would have given state tax money to Sembler Co., which wants to build a $400million shopping center in Jasper County, but that provision was stripped from a bill in March and replaced with local tax incentives.

This is not Sanford's first fight over the incentives. A similar debate began in 2006 over a plan to offer Cabela's, an outdoor supply store, a $9 million incentive to open a store in North Charleston, said Ben Fox, the governor's communications director. The bill passed the legislature in two consecutive years and was met with Sanford's veto each time.

In both cases, the state legislature overrode Sanford's veto, he said.

Cabela's ultimately never opened a store, so did not take advantage of the incentives.

Sanford said he would use his veto power on any similar provisions.

The incentives are not given out to benefit the economy, but to satisfy powerful lobbyists, said Ashley Landess, president of the S.C. Policy Council think tank.

"What is not working is a few politicians closing the door in Columbia and giving away public dollars to those special interests that hire the right lobbyists," Landess said.

The money forces stores without incentives to subsidize their competitors, which does not allow free and fair competition that benefits our economy the most, she said.

Legislators who want to grow the economy should pursue tax relief for all businesses, Landess said.

Rep. Thad Viers, R-Myrtle Beach, said he would vote against the Bass Pro Shops bill when it comes to vote.

The government needs to stop giving public money to private companies, he said.

"Once we go down this road, you're going to see tax incentives for everything that government should have nothing to do with," said Viers, who is seeking re-election this year. "That's what the marketplace is for, that's what private enterprise is about."