Richland Councilman calls for censoring anti-tax group

Richland County Councilman Jim Manning / Courtesy Richland County

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- With a little more than two weeks until Election Day, the ongoing battle over a proposed one-cent sales tax increase in Richland County is heating up.

On Monday, Citizens Against the Tax Increase spokesman Michael Letts demanded an apology from Richland County Councilman Jim Manning over controversial comments he made to the county election commission.

Manning asked the commission on Thursday to issue a "restraining gag order" to bar the anti-tax group from continuing its opposition campaign. Manning described the group as a "cult-like faction" in a five-minute testimony to commissioners and said its materials amount to propaganda.

Listen to Manning's comments here.

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"Any official who advocates to deny the free speech rights of fellow citizens doesn't belong in public office," said Letts.

At issue is a ballot referendum county voters will consider November 2 that would raise Richland County's sales tax from seven to eight percent. Supporters say the revenue will help fund upgrades to the bus system as well as improvements to county roads and bike paths. Opponents point out the tax increase would make Richland County residents among the highest taxed in the state, and they say officials should cut spending elsewhere if they wish to spend money on transit improvements. Letts also argues increasing the sales tax would harm low-income citizens. County officials say they've commissioned multiple studies that support their plan as being in the best interest of residents.

Letts demanded Monday that county officials issue an apology for Manning's comments, and he says his group plans to be at Tuesday's scheduled council meeting to address the issue.

"This is un-American. We're appalled that any elected official would want to deny citizens their most basic, fundamental Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech," said Letts.

WACH Fox News sat down with Councilman Manning Monday night. He says he stands by his comments that a gag order should be placed on the group.

"I think the things they that they are not telling the truth on? Yes." Manning says CATI is falsely accusing county staff of advocating the tax increase.

Constitutional law attorney and USC media law professor Jay Bender said Monday the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled prior restraint of political speech to be Unconstitutional.

Republican political commentator Wesley Donehue said Manning's comments are likely to backfire and strengthen opposition to Richland County's tax proposal.

"When you believe government is acting in a way that is in opposition to what needs to happen it is your right, your duty, to get out there and say no," said Donehue.

Click here to listen to Manning's comments from Thursday's meeting.

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