(The Post and Courier) – For many years South Carolina’s General Assembly has searched for a solution to a key part of ours state’s vitality and economic stability — roads. The crumbling infrastructure issue worsened with each natural disaster South Carolina endured over several years, and though proposals were abundant, agreements were few.
A chief concern in the debates over many years was “who will pay the bill?” While most are aware that the question was answered on May 10 with the gas tax bill being passed with override votes in the S.C. House of Representatives and Senate, many may not be aware that a safety net provision was also put into place to protect those on whom this will have the greatest effect: the working poor.
Across the state, low-wage workers make up the fabric of communities, paying the highest percentage of state and federal taxes and struggling to make ends meet. Many of these hardworking citizens qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a tax credit that has a proven track record of lifting millions of people out of poverty, incentivizing workforce participation and helping to alleviate financial instability.
In 2014, 64,547 returns filed in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties netted $158,455,830 in federal Earned Income Tax Credit. For some, the money they receive represents nearly one-third of their annual income and an opportunity to dig themselves out of the debt that the gaps in their income create throughout the year.
According to the Self Sufficiency Standard — a published county-by-county calculation of the cost of living in South Carolina — transportation costs for people living in the tri-county region average around $533 per month. For a minimum wage worker without some relief, the increased gas tax and vehicle fees could have serious consequences.Many states, recognizing the efficacy of this tool, have implemented a state-based Earned Income Tax Credit — further expanding the credit’s reach.
Trident United Way, along with the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, the Institute for Child Success and other Early Childhood Common Agenda partners from across South Carolina understood this and advocated for a state-based credit that would extend the reach and impact of the federal tool in the Palmetto State.
State lawmakers demonstrated their recognition of the importance of EITC by including a non-refundable state EITC in the final negotiated version of the roads bill — which also included a tax credit provision for college tuition — that then passed in both the State Senate and House chambers.
Trident United Way invests millions of dollars in education, financial stability and health efforts throughout Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties and believes that stable working citizens make our state strong. None of this can happen without the roads we drive on every day. Yet, the assurance that the solution to this problem does not further impoverish hard-working citizens is key to South Carolina’s economic stability.
The work of state legislators to find a compromise and move forward fixing our roads is a great accomplishment — and the inclusion of the state Earned Income Tax Credit demonstrates their concern for all our citizens and their challenges. For all of us working to ensure each person in South Carolina can attain financial stability, we thank you for taking steps to ensure a tax meant to benefit us all does not cripple our lower-income population. Bryan Boroughs is chair of Trident United Way’s Public Policy Council. He also serves as general counsel and director of Palmetto Initiatives for the Institute for Child Success (ICS).