January 2020

A Note From Our Mayors

Author: John McCann, Lisa Sulka | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Local Governance Matters on Business Licensing and Local Taxing Authority

Welcome to the new year, one we hope brings much prosperity for the communities we are fortunate to serve. As elected officials, we’re charged with using our platform as town council bodies to govern our community and meet the needs of our residents—from addressing affordable housing, economic development and stormwater issues to protecting our waterways and maintaining and adding to our parks. With the support of local businesses, we strive for a healthy economy and jobs our residents can depend on for their livelihood.

South Carolina’s landmark Home Rule Act of 1975 granted us the authority to enact local regulations, resolutions and ordinances that we feel best serve our community and make a difference in the quality of life for our residents. Despite that, we face challenges when state legislators consider pieces of legislation that preempt local decisions. We’ve seen our authority as local leaders erode over time, more so now than ever before.

For instance, in 2018, we joined other municipalities and passed a single-use plastic bag ordinance designed to improve our environment. Businesses and residents have abided by this law, which spurred other campaigns discouraging the use of drinking straws, Styrofoam and other materials. It took considerable effort to adopt this law and encourage people to change their reliance on certain products. Now, state lawmakers are considering a law that would invalidate this ordinance.

They are also considering legislation—specifically House Bill 4431—that would preempt our authority to levy business license taxes and mandate sweeping changes in the way local business license taxes are assessed, collected and enforced. This brings us to point of this month’s shared column from both of us.

Local businesses are essential to our thriving economy and to the operations of both Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. We rely on business license fees to provide services, help maintain parks and pathways, enhance our business community, support our economic development initiatives, enhance our towns to encourage business development, and address other public needs. Without this source of revenue, we could see potential lapses and cuts in services and programs.

On the other hand, we want to work with and support our businesses. Municipalities across the state have voluntarily adopted standardized practices that simplify and modernize the business license process and are pursuing other local solutions to improve how businesses license fees are calculated and collected.

House Bill 4431 will likely create more problems than solutions by requiring more documentation from businesses. It will shift how business license taxes are calculated, thus resulting in lower revenues for our towns. This would force us to slash services or further increase taxes to maintain our current level of services.

The bill could shift the tax burden to the businesses that cannot afford the tax. Non-resident owned businesses would be allowed high deductions before paying any taxes. Additionally, it places critical functions of business licensing with the Secretary of State office, which currently has no role or experience in administering local business license taxes.

We share this information with you—our residents and business owners—so you’re aware of the potential changes that could result should the pending bill become a law. We have shared our concerns with our state legislators so they understand how this law and others under their consideration could affect the daily quality of life for our residents and business owners.

There are many issues on which we need help from our state legislators. But, based on feedback from our local citizens and businesses, we know best what laws would help us manage business licenses and other local issues such as short-term rentals, vaping, small cell towers, and plastic bags. Please reach out to representatives of our local delegation to voice your opinion on home rule, especially as it pertains to laws that could directly affect you or your business. We also want to hear from you and answer questions you may have about pending state legislations that could affect our communities.

Here’s how to contact our state legislators:

Senator Tom Davis
Local: P.O. Drawer 1107,
Beaufort, South Carolina 29901-1107
Phone:(843) 252-8583
Columbia: 404 Gressette Bldg.,
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Phone:(803) 212-6350

Senator Margie Bright Matthews
Columbia: 502 Gressette Bldg.,
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Phone:(803) 212-6108

Representative Jeffrey A. “Jeff” Bradley
Local:304 Seabrook Drive,
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina 29926
Phone:(843) 342-6918
Columbia: 320A Blatt Bldg.,
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Phone:(803) 212-6928

Representative William G. “Bill” Herbkersman
Local:896 May River Road,
Bluffton, South Carolina 29910
Phone:(843) 757-7900
Columbia: 308C Blatt Bldg.,
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Phone:(803) 734-3063

Representative Wm. Weston J. Newton
Local:83 Myrtle Island Rd.,
Bluffton, South Carolina 29910
Phone: (803) 212-6810
Columbia: 228 Blatt Bldg.,
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Phone:(843) 706-6111 or (843) 706-3880

You can also track legislation and contact legislators through https://www.scstatehouse.gov/.

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