A bill Rep. Bakari Sellers hoped would allow the construction of new school facilities in Bamberg School District Two has been vetoed, with the governor saying voters should be given a voice on how tax money is spent.
“Having attended public schools in her hometown of Bamberg, Gov. Haley understands their unique set of challenges as well as anyone in the state,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said.
“While the governor supports new and innovative ways to fund school infrastructure needs, Rep. Seller’s bill goes too far and lets the school district raise taxes as high as they want, whenever they want. That’s wrong,” he said.
But Sellers, a Denmark Democrat, says Haley is standing in the way of an innovative effort to provide new schools in the Denmark-Olar district. He said investors were ready to bid on building the districts’ schools.
“What she’s doing is playing politics with children’s lives,” he said.
Lawmakers are expected to take up the governor’s veto today.
State law says that voters must approve any borrowing exceeding 8 percent of a school district’s assessed property value. But Sellers’ bill would authorize Bamberg School District Two trustees to, “impose a capital millage to provide school buildings in the district, including any associated lease payments.”
Sellers says the intent of the bill isn’t to increase taxes. Instead, it would allow the district to pursue a deal with a private developer to replace facilities built in 1957. The developer could build facilities for the district, which could then use its capital millage to pay for a lease-purchase agreement with the developer.
Sellers said he was just trying to come up with an innovative way for Bamberg District Two to get a new K-8 school and upgrade the high school.
The value of a mill is so low in Bamberg County, a new school can’t be built by increasing taxes, he said. A mill in the school district is worth only $11,000 vs. almost $2 million in Greenville County.
“How does that happen when you’re $11,000 a mill and already maxed out?” he said.
Haley’s veto message said her office contacted the bill’s sponsor to ask that he support an amendment to give voters a chance to vote for or against new capital millage, but Sellers said no.
Sellers said it “lacked more than a bit of decency” for Haley to not refer to him by name in her veto message when they sat 3 feet from each other when she was a representative.
While Sellers believes voters would approve the project, he said what her staff offered would have killed efforts to draw private investment.
“I’m tired of government standing in our way,” he said.
The governor did reference Sellers by name in a Facebook post referring to him as “Lt. Gov. candidate Bakari Sellers.”
She said his bill, “opens the door for school districts to raise taxes for capital expenditures WITHOUT voter approval.
“Taxpayers deserve the right to vote on tax increases. No public body should have an unlimited ability to tax citizens.”
Calling Haley “out of touch,” Sellers said he wished the governor had called him to learn about Bamberg County’s needs instead of addressing the issue on Facebook. Bamberg District Two students deserve the chance to go to schools as good as others in South Carolina and the nation, he said.
“It’s as if Nikki Haley lives in a world only depicted on CNN and Fox news,” he said. Meanwhile, Bamberg School District Two students walk through mud on their way to class.
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