COLUMBIA, S.C. — Carolina Panthers players and head coach Ron Rivera met with the Governor and lawmakers Thursday to advocate for tax credits for a new practice facility and headquarters in South Carolina.
The bill, which has already passed the House, is set for debate in the Senate.
The bill would offer tax credits to the Panthers and any other professional sports team that would want to move to the state.
The bill still needs Senate approval before it can go to the Governor’s desk. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would sign the bill into law and advocated for it and education reform earlier this week.
"We may send the wrong message to the rest of the country and to the world if we don't take this opportunity to strengthen our educational system and react positively to great business opportunities as presented by the Panthers," McMaster said about the two bills.
Coach Rivera spoke briefly with reporters after meeting with the Governor on Thursday.
"We talked about the whole attitude of having two states, one team. I think that’s probably the main focus, the main reason we’re here," he said.
Rivera added that the new headquarters would be a state of the art facility, like other teams have in Dallas and Minnesota.
Rivera said much of the agenda of the day was aimed at shaking hands and getting to know lawmakers and introduce themselves while team ownership works out the specifics on the deal.
The Panthers plan to keep their football stadium in North Carolina, while the headquarters and practice facility would be across the border in South Carolina.
However, at least one senator is cautious about the deal. Richland County Democrat Dick Harpootlian aired his concerns Thursday.
"We shouldn't be giving tax payer's money away unless we're getting a benefit for it, I'm not saying we're not, I haven't made up my mind, but I am saying we're not going to have a vote on this unless I get enough information to make up my mind," Harpootlian said.
Even though top Republicans like McMaster and Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope are quick to point out that tax breaks don't give away tax payer dollars, Harpootlian said planned infrastructure improvements would.
"Do we spend it on an interchange so the Panthers can get to their practice field? Or do we spend it over in Lexington County, malfunction junction, or in Charleston where people are desperate to get on the intestate to get to work in the morning?" Harpootlian continued.
The concerns echoed what he wrote in a letter to the Governor on Wednesday.
"While you note that the Panthers would not receive any payroll tax credit until after the facility is complete, you acknowledge an upfront cost of approximately $40 million for the construction of an I-77 interchange for this project," Harpootlian's letter states.
In the letter, Harpootlian said he hired his own economist to review the details of the proposed deal.
The Senator claims his economist found issues with the Governor's numbers.
"Dr. Gunnlaugsson believes the Department's net impact figures are overstated by at least $2.684 billion and that the expected number of jobs that will be created is approximately 208 jobs, not the 5,715 promised," Harpootlian writes.
Harpootlian's letter is in response to a letter the Governor sent lawmakers describing the deal and its economic impact.
The freshman Senator said he has not decided how he will vote, but will hold up the process till his questions are answered.