National Business

Lawmaker: Richland County may have to repay $40M in taxes

A South Carolina lawmaker who has seen a state audit says Richland County may have to repay $40 million collected in a penny sales tax for road improvements.

Rep. Kirkman Finlay said a constituent showed him the document. Both the county and the state have refused to release it publicly.

Richland County voters approved the extra sales tax in 2012, hoping to collect $1 billion for road improvements.

The state Revenue Department accused the county of spending some money on public relations and a small business program, and the state Supreme Court agreed in a 2018 ruling that Richland County would have to pay back any taxes spent improperly.

News outlets report the county has not responded to Finley's comments.

County officials have also discussed scaling back the list of projects after some cost more than estimated.

Finley said the audit needs to be made public now so if Richland County is on the hook for paying back $40 million, solutions can be discussed in the open as soon as possible.

"My concern is, will the state be forced to step in?" Finlay told The State newspaper. "Are you asking if Greenville and Charleston would be willing to spend millions to bail out Richland County? My guess is they will be less than enthusiastic."

The Richland County Council met after Finley spoke publicly, but the sales tax problems were not discussed in public and seven council members refused to speak about the issue to a WLTX-TV reporter.

Finlay told the television station the council's refusal to speak to the people about the problems is poor public service.

"If you pay for $40 million of inappropriate items, that would be my definition of a slush fund," Finlay said.

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