My Take: Penny Tax - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

My Take: Penny Tax

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

It's not the easiest story to follow or report.

But we need to pay continued attention to the latest developments in the tax fight between Richland County government and the state Department of Revenue.

It could have a direct impact on how millions of tax dollars are spent and how tens of thousands of us get around and spend our leisure time.

It all dates back to December.

That's when a DOR audit found serious problems in the way projects are created and funded through 2012's Transportation Penny sales tax.

The DOR raised the spectre of public corruption and fraud.

Director Rick Reames set out a list of four major reforms to bring tax collection and spending into compliance.

County officials have made progress on those changes, but not enough to satisfy DOR.

So this week, Reames told the county its time is just about up.

Fix those problems, Reames said, or DOR will cut off quarterly disbursements of tax dollars funding work on projects ranging from better buses and bike lanes to an elaborate public plaza near Colonial Life Arena.

A particular sticking point for DOR is the county's foot-dragging on a demand to establish a so-called uniform standard to make sure Penny Tax money is spent only on transportation projects.

County council members met in an emergency session Friday to work out a solution.

But there's also talk of a legal challenge -- questions over whether DOR has authority to withhold funding or interfere with county functions. 

Many other South Carolina counties have imposed similar taxes without the level of scrutiny seen here.

We're not sure why Director Reames has zeroed in on Richland County or how he arrived at what seems without some explanation to be an arbitrary deadline for action. 

On the other hand, if the county council is, as some indicate, close to working out a solution, let's get it done so taxpayers don't end up with a bunch of half-finished projects and a potential waste of their money. 

That's My Take, what's yours?

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