South Carolina Chapter
"THINK OF IT as a sloppy wet kiss for the billboard industry.
Actually, that doesn’t begin to capture the excess ... the promiscuity ... the whorishness of our legislators. But I’m simply not going to write the appropriate analogy in a family newspaper.
Suffice it to say that the billboard industry has no reason to respect the General Assembly now that morning has dawned.
Neither do we.
If that sounds like an overstatement, you probably don’t realize how far lawmakers went to satisfy the industry. Maybe all you know is that they passed a bill to make local governments pay billboard owners who are forced to relocate their signs, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill, and lawmakers fell all over themselves in their rush to override the veto.
You might have been surprised that uber-libertarian Mark Sanford would object to that. After all, it doesn’t take a libertarian to think the government ought to pay you if it makes you stop using your property the way you’ve been using it for years.
If that were what the Billboard Promotion Act did, no one would have objected.
But that is not what it does.
As Mr. Sanford explained in his unread veto letter, the new law puts billboards “in a position superior to homeowners, farmers and other businesses.”
The new law gives billboard owners the best of both worlds: They pay taxes as if billboards were personal property, which goes down in taxable value each year. But if the county orders a billboard removed, they get paid as if the signs were real estate, which goes up in value each year.
Except it’s worse than that.
The law doesn’t just require a city to pay billboard owners what the signs are worth, as it would if I were forced to sell my house to make way for a public park. Cities and counties also will have to pay owners what they would lose by not being able to rent out their space in the future, possibly for as long as 20 years. That could reach $400,000 per sign, making it all but impossible to force down signs that devalue nearby homes or distract drivers on busy roads.
That’s like telling the Transportation Department that if it tears down a restaurant to make way for a highway, it has to pay the owners the profit they expected to make for the next two decades.
Except it’s worse than that.
Billboards aren’t destroyed when they get zoned out of existence. They simply have to move to another location.
A better comparison would be a business owner who parked an ice cream truck in front of her store and started selling Nutty Buddies to passers-by. If the city told her she had to move the truck, it would have to pay her for the truck and all the money she expected to make selling ice cream for the next two decades.
There’s one more “except.”
The new law doesn’t apply to the Transportation Department, or any other state agency. It only applies to cities and counties.
This should give you an idea of the clout of the billboard industry versus cities and counties: As the bill was speeding through the State House, cities offered to accept the new payment method the billboard owners want — as long as billboards were taxed on the same basis. But the billboard owners were too certain of our legislators’ determination to satisfy their every desire even to dignify the offer with a response.
Some have blamed the industry’s financial largesse and lobbying might for the result. Greenville News columnist Jeanne Brooks has been relentlessly detailing how the industry spent a quarter-million dollars on lobbyists and lavish meals and generous campaign donations for legislators in 2004 and the first half of 2005. One critic suggested that legislators had lined up lemming-like in support of the bill because “I’m a Democrat and I have to support this because (Democratic lobbyist) Dwight Drake is for it, or I’m a Republican and I have to support his because (Republican lobbyist) Fred Allen is for it.”
I think all of that played a role. But the bigger problem is that our legislators will pretty much always take sides with pretty much anybody whose petty individual interests collide with those of the entire communities in which they live or do business."
© copyright Sierra Club 1892-2014