State Politics

SC House approves millions in tax breaks to lure Carolina Panthers across border

As South Carolina GOP leaders and S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster work to bring the Carolina Panthers’ headquarters and training facilities across the border to Rock Hill, fellow Republicans expressed skepticism on Tuesday over the millions of dollars in tax breaks needed for the deal.

Despite those concerns, the House voted 90-25 to pass a bill — H. 4243 — that would give the Panthers nearly $8 million in tax breaks for each of the next 15 years if it makes the move. The Senate is slated to debate the proposal Wednesday.

The tax breaks are worth roughly $115 million over the next 15 years, but House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, argued the team’s move to South Carolina would spur development that would outweigh those incentives. Details of that cost-benefit analysis, however, had not been made public by Tuesday.

“With the NFL, with the Panthers — they give a lot more than they can take,” Simrill said. “It is a win, win, win.”

Panthers’ owner David Tepper, a billionaire who bought the team last June, has expressed interest in moving his team’s operations to York County from Charlotte. However, the Panthers plan to continue playing their home games at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

Tepper and other Panthers officials have met privately with Gov. Henry McMaster and legislative leaders to request the tax incentives.

McMaster announced weeks ago the Panthers would move their offices and 150 employees into South Carolina — with an “annual payroll for federal tax purposes” of roughly $190 million — and invest $150 million within four years. McMaster said the move could spur the development of hotels, retail and restaurants.

On the House floor Tuesday, Simrill said the development would be a “boon” for South Carolina, citing a cost-benefit analysis by the state’s Commerce Department that has not made public.

“The cost-benefit analysis is a positive,” Simrill said. “And, I can tell you, this is a plus.”

But a handful of Republican lawmakers on Tuesday questioned whether the state should have to incentivize the Panthers.

“So, this gentleman’s worth $11.6 billion, and we’re fixing to give him tax breaks,” state Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, said of Tepper. “We didn’t subsidize (former owner) Jerry Richardson one dime when they were (training) in Spartanburg.”

The House-Senate legislation would offer the Panthers discretionary job development credits, which are routinely used to entice companies to relocate to South Carolina. In this case, those credits would allow the Panthers to keep their own employees’ income withholding taxes and use that money to buy land and build facilities and infrastructure.

Initially, the state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office said bringing the Panthers on board would reduce state tax revenue by $225,000 a year, starting in 2021. But the agency’s amended analysis statement put that investment much higher — about $7.8 million in 2021 through 2025, then $7.6 million from 2026 until 2036. A remaining portion would go toward the state’s rural infrastructure fund.

State Rep. Josiah Magnuson, R-Spartanburg, who also opposed the bill, said he supports tax incentives, but only when the state offers them to everyone.

“That’s why we’re adding (the Panthers) to the list, sir,” Simrill responded.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.