Proposed penny sales tax has some on cruise control, others hitting the break

Community leaders from the Citizens for a Greater Midlands Organization are driving a plan to help keep the public bus system rolling.

They are pushing for a penny sales tax everyone who spends money in Richland County would have to pay; even if they do not ride the bus.

Chamber of Commerce President Ike McLeese said it would be a good investment.

"That penny would be devoted directly to transportation and infrastructure. The other interesting thing about it is since we are a capital city and a lot of people come here to work or visit, about 40 cents of every dollar raised would come from a non-resident of Richland County. The business community is advocating for it. Not because we love sales taxes or any form of taxes. But we see it as an investment in the infrastructure of that will support economic development."

The plan is similar to on that voters shot down in November 2010. The proposed tax would run between the next 20-25 years. Supporters like CMRTA Executive Director Robert Schneider say the money generated would help add and expand roads, create bike paths, and help with the county's transportation services.

"The amount of contribution for transit has reduced from $331 million over 20 years, down to about $235 million. What this is designed to look at is the revenue streams based on what Richland County alone would provide alone through this option."

Schneider also points to funding from bus riders as a resource. He wants to add services and amenities to help keep buses full.

But critics like Save Our Buses Taskforce Chairman Bob Liming say 75% of the money will go to infrastructure instead of transit.

"The current plan calls for only 25%; which is a troubling concern. That is not enough to meet the transit needs we have for the next 20 years. We have got look for decades to come. So we do not have a problem."

The county council will hold a public hearing on the sales tax on June 19. If it is approved, it will go for a final reading before being put on the November ballot.