State Politics

SC senator blocking tax breaks for Carolina Panthers offers compromise

The most vocal critic of a deal to lure the Carolina Panthers’ headquarters and practice facilities to Rock Hill has proposed a path forward.

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia Democrat who is blocking a tax incentives package for the NFL team from passing the Senate, asked Gov. Henry McMaster Wednesday to meet with senators in private to provide a more detailed breakdown of the move’s benefits for South Carolina before the Senate votes on whether to offer more than $115 million in tax breaks to the Panthers.

“I am unable to vote on this use of public money to benefit a private corporation without a crystal clear understanding of the purported merits of the deal,” the freshman senator wrote in a three-page letter to McMaster. “Anything less invites public distrust of our actions, and rightly so.”

The Richland Democrat has warned state leaders he will continue to block the bill until senators get a better breakdown of the costs and benefits of Panthers’ owner David Tepper’s proposal to move the team and about 150 employees from Charlotte to York County.

But McMaster told reporters in Irmo Wednesday he doesn’t know what information is left to provide to lawmakers.

“We think that we’ve provided all the information,” the Columbia Republican said. “There’s nothing secret going on.”

Harpootlian, a former prosecutor, is skeptical of the Commerce Department’s estimate that the deal will spark a multi-billion-dollar economic impact after he hired an economist who found the department’s numbers were overstated.

Last month, Harpootlian placed an objection that put the brakes on legislation that would offer the Panthers roughly $115 million in tax breaks to move the team’s operations and facilities across the border into South Carolina. The House had already passed the same proposal with a 90-24 vote.

Last week, Harpootlian announced he hired Rebecca Gunnlaugsson, the state’s former chief economist for the commerce department, now an analyst with conservative think-tank, the Palmetto Promise Institute, to analyze the deal.

The state’s commerce department projects the relocation’s total income impact — which includes state revenue, private economic investment and any jobs created — would reach about $3.8 billion over 15 years. However, Gunnlaugsson estimated the report overstated that impact by nearly $2.7 billion, and she estimates that the move would create 208 jobs, not 5,715.

Harpootlian also told the governor he is concerned the state would have to pay $40 million for an interchange off I-77 as part of the deal, when other areas — including his Senate district — are in need of more serious highway improvements.

“I continue to believe the Senate’s vote on this matter should be fully informed by the facts,” he wrote.

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