- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 26, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina House lawmakers gave key approval Tuesday to legislation that offers millions in job tax credits and other incentives to professional sports teams, strengthening their pitch to get the practice fields and team headquarters of the Carolina Panthers.

The House voted 90-25 to approve Professional Sports Team Investment Act. It faces one more usually routine vote before it is sent to the Senate.

The bipartisan vote came 13 days after the NFL team’s owner David Tepper visited South Carolina and told the governor and legislative leaders he is thinking about moving and expanding the Panthers’ operations as well as building an indoor practice facility in the Palmetto State.

The Panthers currently play and practice in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from South Carolina.

The bill would allow the team to qualify for incentives they would not have been eligible for under current laws. Football players don’t practice enough hours to be considered full-time employees in the state.

The bill’s author, House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, said the possible move shows what South Carolina is becoming. He said the impact of the Panthers practicing in South Carolina would be immeasurable.

“We certainly welcome the opportunity to be part of this venue,” said Simrill, a Republican from Rock Hill near the likely location for a new practice facility. “I can tell you the cost benefit analysis is positive.”

Some of Simrill’s fellow Republicans are more skeptical. The proposed legislation would provide nearly $8 million in tax cuts, each year, for the next 15 years for the Panthers franchise if they move their operations and build a practice facility in South Carolina, according to a financial impact statement given to lawmakers.

“(Tepper) is worth $11.6 billion and we’re fixing to give him tax breaks,” Republican Rep. David Hiott of Pickens said. “We’re talking about giving him taxpayer dollars that people work hard for every day, and he’s worth $11 billion.”

Republican Rep. Tommy Stringer of Landrum also voted against the bill and said on Twitter : “Thankfully they didn’t ask for a stadium.”

While South Carolina lawmakers are preparing legislation in anticipation of the potential move, North Carolina lawmakers have not spoken about it publicly. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told a reporter in Charlotte that he would consult with local government officials and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and determine their plans.

“I think that there is time to discuss what needs to happen in the future and what we need to do to make sure we have a continued strong relationship with the Panthers,” Cooper said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “Clearly, it’s important to our economy and we look forward to continued discussions.”

South Carolina and Tepper have not settled on any potential site. Tepper has not made a public comment about the move.

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