Column by Sen. Kevin Johnson: Penny out of $1 for schools not too much to ask


Approximately 20 years ago, legislation was passed to impose a 1% school district tax for Clarendon County public schools. Several other counties also have this school district tax, counties with very little tax base and sources of revenue like Jasper, Lee and Chesterfield as well as larger and more affluent counties like Charleston and Lexington. Each county's legislation outlines how long this tax will be in place, and the time frame varies by county. For example, Berkeley County passed a seven-year school district tax, Clarendon's sunset in 20 years, and Dillon County's school district tax is indefinite.

The legislation that imposed the tax in Clarendon County included provisions that allowed for the tax to be reimposed. There was some confusion about who had the responsibility to reimpose the tax. An opinion from the attorney general was requested, and the opinion was that reimposing the tax required legislation. Based on that opinion, I immediately filed the necessary legislation in the Senate to reimpose the tax so that our school district can continue to receive this much-needed revenue. My bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House. According to Rep. Fawn Pedalino's Facebook page, she will let the bill die in the House. While I was disappointed in learning that, I realize that that is her prerogative. Since the bill is considered local legislation because it only affects Clarendon County, without her support, the bill will not pass, and our school district will lose millions of dollars of funding.

Why was I disappointed? I'm glad you asked. The School District Tax in South Carolina is also known as the Education Capital Improvement Tax. The revenue that is brought in by this penny is doing amazing things for school districts throughout our state. Several counties are building new schools and repairing and renovating older schools and other school property. That penny brings in around $8 million per year for capital projects for schools in our county. A large portion of that tax is paid by people who visit our county and spend money here. For our schools, we receive one penny out of every dollar or one dollar out of every one hundred dollars that they spend. Nonresidents of our county are contributing financially to the needs of our school district. Likewise, when we spend money in other counties that impose a 1% school district tax, we are contributing to their school district; therefore, we should be willing to do the same for ours. Many of our school buildings are very old, and it takes a lot of money to keep them up and running. I would imagine that the schools in the Turbeville area are among our older schools, and Manning Primary and Manning Elementary schools are over 60 years old. To not reimpose this 1% tax is going to make it hard to have the financial resources to repair and/or replace these aging facilities as well as keep them up to date with the latest technology and other necessities.

Regardless of how anyone else feels, I think our children need and deserve the best facilities that we can provide in order to help them receive a high-quality education. In my opinion, one penny out of each dollar that I spend is not asking too much. This is not a new tax; it's a tax that we have been paying for the past 20 years. Without this tax, either our property taxes would be much higher or our school district would receive less revenue. And for those who are asking why you should pay taxes for education and schools since you are no longer in school or don't have children in school, my answer is that when you and your children were in school other taxpayers paid taxes for your education even though they were no longer in school. Again, this is not a new tax. We have been paying this tax for 20 years, and about half of the revenue generated is paid by nonresidents, which lessens the burden on residents of our county. So, if this bill does not pass, 100% of the cost of the expenses that this revenue covers will be on the back of the taxpayers of Clarendon County.

In conclusion, one of the main reasons other municipalities and counties have some of the amenities that we don't have in Clarendon County is because citizens in those other localities voted to tax themselves so that they would have the financial means to pay for these quality-of-life projects. We can and should do the same thing for ourselves, especially for our children.

Sen. Kevin Johnson represents South Carolina District 36, which includes Clarendon and Sumter counties.