House cuts back on real reform
By Bill Davis, senior editorMARCH 23, 2012 -- Seven Republican caucus tax bills are tracking fast through the House, where they are picking up detractors almost as fast as they are picking up supporters.
Rep. Tommy Stringer (R-Greenville) chaired an out-of-session ad hoc caucus tax reform committee that put forward seven bills over the last two weeks:
- Manufacturing exemptions: H. 4993 would remove property tax exemptions on manufacturing.
- Income tax brackets: H. 4994 would do away with the 4, 5 and 6-percent income tax brackets, keeping the rest at 3 percent, while also reenacting the Joint Committee on Taxation.
- Senior exemption: H. 4995 would repeal 1-percent sales tax exemptions for residents over 85 years of age.
- Business tax: H. 4996 would drop business pass-through trade taxation from 5 to 3 percent.
- Remove brackets: H. 4997 would do away with the 4,5 and 6-percent income tax brackets.
- Commercial property: H. 4998 would drop commercial property tax rates from 6 to 5 percent.
- Corporate income: H. 4999 would eliminate corporate income tax altogether over a four-year period.
Two of the bills, all of which are part of the GOP caucus agenda, have already cleared House Ways and Means Committee and could be debated on the floor in the next few weeks.
Stringer said the bills would only affect $300 million a year in recurring dollars of the state’s $6.5 billion General Fund Budget, which the House passed last week.
House Ways and Means chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) said that packages of bills like Stringers were de rigueur, and they often came out after the House passed budget bill package to the Senate.
Committee work criticized
Democrats and observers have criticized Stringer’s work, saying, taken as a whole, it’s heavier on cutting taxes than on reforming the state’s wonky tax structure.
Stringer this week agreed that only two of the seven “arguably” affected structural changes, the ones that modified tax brackets. The other five bills, Stringer admitted do cut taxes primarily.
One of the most criticized bills, which would raise taxes paid by poorer residents while dropping taxes on businesses and vacation homes, caught the ire of many in the legislature.
But the ire wasn’t enough on a Ways and Means subcommittee, chaired by Stringer, which passed it this week.
Stringer argued that increasing the amount of taxes paid by the poorest taxpayers in the state would only happen under the bill once all of the state and federal income tax reductions and exemptions have been paid.
Rep. Karl Allen (D-Greenville) huddled with Stringer on Wednesday in the foyer to House chambers and quizzed him quietly about the first of the bills, H. 4993.
Allen said afterward that he had problems with the property tax exemptions being affected, as he believes counties will have to chose between raising taxes and cutting services, or firing staffers, to offset the potential losses.
Holley Ulbrich, a senior scholar at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government at Clemson University, where she is also a professor emeritus, said that the GOP agenda showed “they didn’t know the difference between ‘reform’ and ‘cutting.’”
Stringer wasn’t surprised by the criticism. He said that he would have liked to remove more of the state’s estimated $2.7 billion in special interest sales tax exemptions. “But, once you start removing exemptions on daily needs, like food and power and fuel, the bill becomes dead in the water,” he said.
Several Democrats agreed with Stringer’s assessment, but not for attribution.
Stringer also said that concerns over how much money the state was cutting from local governments through these bills might be ill-founded, as growth in local tax bases could likely cover any state contribution shortfalls.
Stringer claimed that prior to the recession, counties’ growth rates were close to 4 percent, and that his proposed reductions would pale in comparison if counties returned to that rate of growth.
Ulbrich praised the call for reinstalling the Joint Taxation Committee, saying that would good for the state. But the economics scholar still worried that the GOP caucus was missing the point of the TRAC commission – to widen the tax base and then lower the tax rate, not just make cuts to revenue streams.
Crystal ball: What was pitched as tax reform has arrived at the plate as little more than election-year posturing. That doesn’t mean it won’t have legs. Look for the bills, taken in a lump, to sail through Stringer’s subcommittee before hitting the floor, where politics may prevail over prudence. But once sent to the Senate, the bills will face stiffer challenges, where members seemed to have better learned the lesson taught by Act 388, which is that everything that makes political sense doesn’t always make fiscal sense.
Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Drug tests to raffles
Debate on the House floor will center next week on a bill that would suspend state unemployment benefits for enrollees failing a drug test.
With Senate Finance budget subcommittee meetings resuming next week, look for debate on the floor to start off light with discussion of a bill that would allow charities to hold raffles and other games of chance for fund-raising purposes. Among next week’s meetings:
- Senate Finance. Health and Human Services subcommittee budget hearings will be held Wednesday 9 a.m. 207 Gressette. Agenda.
- Senate Finance. Constitutional and criminal justice subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. in 307 Gressette. Agenda.
- Senate Banking and Insurance. The full committee will meet Wednesday at 11 a.m. in 307 Gressette to discuss a series of House and Senate bills, and a Department of Insurance report on health care exchanges. Agenda.
- House Ag. The full committee will meet Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in 410 Blatt to discuss a bill creating open season hunting on coyotes, armadillos and wild hogs, among others. Agenda.
- House 3M. The full committee will meet Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. or an hour and a half after adjournment in 427 Blatt to discuss bills related to death certificates, pertussis vaccinations and licensure of medical lab personnel. Agenda.
- House LCI. A subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in 403 Blatt to discuss an unemployment benefit bill among others. Agenda.
- Senate Judiciary. A subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. in 308 Gressette to discuss a bill that could create new local municipalities, among others. Agenda.
- House LCI. The full committee will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in 403 Blatt to discuss telemedicine reimbursement. Agenda.
Word has it that state Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), joined by other tea party senators, will advocate that the legislature not spend any of the $900 million extra it is estimated to receive in tax revenue collections for the coming fiscal year. The reason? What he sees as the “impending” fiscal collapse of the Obama-led federal government. Look for lots of amendments during budget week in May.
After promising that current employees enrolled in the state’s retirement system would not be affected by proposed changes to the state’s pension fund, the House this week passed a bill that would require them to pay more toward their retirement, potentially receive less and wait longer to receive retirement benefits.
Supporters of the move, including the bill’s spearhead, Rep. Jim Merrill (R-Daniel Island), said something major had to be done to correct looming deficits. Critics like House Minority Leader Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews), tried unsuccessfully to protect as many enrollees, which include teachers and cops in addition to state employees, from the changes. The bill heads next to the Senate.
Board of Economic Advisors does nothing. Whew.
In contrast with quarterly meetings of the past few years, when big cuts and money shuffling was the norm, the state Board of Economic Advisors took no action in their meeting this week. Why is that good news? Because it didn’t have to. Most of the state’s economic indicators are unchanged or improved from the month before, which points to more recovery for the state’s economy. Whew. For now.
Senate budget schedule
Here is the Senate Budget schedule for the rest of the session:
- March 27-29: Senate Finance Committee budget subcommittee meetings; discussion of statewide funding items.
- April 3-5: Senate Finance Committee staff preparation week, with the Senate furloughed.
- April 10-12: Testimony from state agencies; review of provisos.
- April 17-19: Budget discussion and proviso review.
- April 24-26: Full Senate Finance Committee budget meetings week.
- May 1-3 Committee staff preparation of budget bill and supporting documents.
- May 8-10: Full budget printed, summaries distributed for week’s perusal by members.
- May 15-17: Budget debate begins.
Time to honor this national hero from SC
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
MARCH 23, 2012 -- A generation of South Carolinians -- maybe two -- have grown up without knowing much about a home-grown civil rights hero with a national reputation. It’s high time they did.
Meet U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring (1880-1968), a native son who called for the crippling shackles of segregation to be stripped from South Carolina at a time when blacks and whites had to drink from different water fountains.
To say that Judge Waring, an eighth-generation Charlestonian, was unpopular among the white elite in the late 1940s through the day he retired in 1952 is an whopping understatement. And at a time when South Carolina had two school systems perpetuated by the Jim Crow deceit of “separate but equal,” what got them most was that one of their own jumped ship to do what was right by treating blacks as Americans, not inferiors.
Waring started breaking from traditional rulings a couple of years after he became a federal judge in 1942. He first gained mainstream attention in 1947 and the considerable ire of state leaders when he ordered the S.C. Democratic Party, the only real political party at the time, to stop its white-only primary and let black South Carolinians cast ballots in it. That decision, along with another the following year, offered a realistic opportunity for South Carolina’s blacks to vote. Thousands did in August 1948.
But the case that put Waring in the history books involved segregated schools in Summerton where 46 black minors and 22 adults brought a case in 1947 seeking bus transportation. After the NAACP took the case two years later, it made its way to a three-judge federal court panel that included Waring.
In a blistering 21-page dissent that supported the Clarendon County plaintiffs in Briggs v. Elliott, Waring castigated so-called “separate but equal” schools prevalent throughout the South for generations. The Constitution, he explained, clearly outlined how equal treatment under the law -- not just for white citizens -- was a fundamental right and that separate was not equal. He wrote in June 1951:
Portrait of Judge J. Waties Waring that hangs today in the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C.
"I am of the opinion that all of the legal guideposts, expert testimony, common sense and reason point unerringly to the conclusion that the system of segregation adopted and practiced in the State of South Carolina must go and must go now. Segregation is per se inequality."
Waring's opinion didn't prevail, but it did send more shockwaves throughout white South Carolina. By December 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether school segregation was a constitutional violation. It combined five similar cases in that hearing, including an appeal of the Briggs decision by the NAACP and its lawyer, Thurgood Marshall. The resulting ruling in the combined case of Brown v. Board of Education unanimously outlawed school segregation, just as Waring concluded in his 1951 dissent.
“He made history in that decision,” observed retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, reportedly the last living lawyer who attended the oral arguments in the Washington courtroom in 1952. Last year in an article in the National Law Review, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel of Charleston and Hofstra law professor Leon Friedman observed that Waring’s dissent was the first since the “separate but equal ruling” in which “a federal judge concluded that racial segregation was incompatible with the American Constitution.”
Sixty years have passed since Waring resigned his Charleston judgeship at age 71 to move to New York, never to return to his home state while alive.
Today, a move is afoot among leading attorneys of the state to memorialize Waring with a statue on the grounds of the federal courthouse in Charleston where the judge held court and, coincidentally, is just a block from where he lived. They’re talking with sculptors and starting to raise money to install the statue, perhaps as early as next year.
Good. It’s about time. We need more Waties Warings today. Regardless of your political persuasion, the judge had the courage to protect democracy and freedom in the midst of scorn, ostracism, closed-mindedness and duplicity. Most of our current leaders could learn a thing or two from Waring’s example.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. You can learn more about Judge Waring at a new Web site -- www.WatiesWaring.org. You can reach Brack at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
S.C. Association for Justice
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the South Carolina Association for Justice, a non-profit, non-partisan, professional association dedicated to advancing the rights of individuals and small businesses in the civil and criminal justice system in South Carolina. For more information about how the association works to protect individual rights and keep families safe, go to: www.scaj.com.
Regaining control of governmentBy former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings
MARCH 23, 2012 -- The Congress had a conscience in 1968. George Steinbrenner walked into my Senate office and said: “The Nixon campaign said I had to get $1 million for the campaign or I wouldn’t get the money the government owes my company in Tampa. What do you think?” I answered “It doesn’t sound right to me. Ask one of these senior Senators.”
Other senators had similar experiences, so in 1971 and 1973 we limited spending in campaigns so public office couldn’t be bought. Strom Thurmond and I were limited to so much per registered voter—a total of $687,000. The Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo equated speech with money, reversing the law, and for 35 years Congresses have attempted in various ways to limit spending in campaigns. But on appeals, the Supreme Court gets worse and worse, recently giving corporations speech or unlimited spending in political campaigns.
Now public office is up for sale. The President, the Congress, Republicans and Democrats—Washington all enjoys it. Washington spends half its time fundraising. We used to hate filibusters. The cots would come out with many a sleepless night. Today in filibusters, one Senator on each side of the aisle holds the floor and the Senate goes to California to fundraise. The media goes to Burning Tree for a round of golf. It’s a disgrace.
When I came to the Senate in 1966, six Republicans and six Democrats got together every Wednesday night. The designated wife arranged dinner, ties off, and we became friends—even giving a Senator from the other party a vote. No more. One morning my staff told me about a fundraiser for my opponent downtown: “All the Republicans on your Committee were there except for Senator Stevens.”
I was surprised. I learned in World War II that if you looked out for your men, they would look out for you. As chairman of the Commerce Committee, if a Republican missed an important vote, I would put the vote again and let the Republican vote. When I heard all the Republicans except Stevens wanted to get rid of me, I wanted to get rid of them. Both sides are constantly raising money against each other. You help Democratic colleagues for five years and they help you when your time is up. You’ve got to be a horse’s ass, not to fall in line and be partisan.
Today the people have lost control of their government to the lobbyists. Instead of senators from opposite parties getting together once a week, lobbyists drink together every night. Everybody knows everybody’s business. Each lobbyist knows the lobbyist who can persuade a certain senator. Important votes are fixed regardless of public sentiment. The special interests control.
"The people need to take back their government. Do it the way Congress did in 1973—pass a law limiting spending in campaigns, but first amend the Constitution to get by the Supreme Court.
"The amendment: 'The Congress shall have the power to regulate or control contributions and spending in federal elections.'”
The people need to take back their government. Do it the way Congress did in 1973—pass a law limiting spending in campaigns, but first amend the Constitution to get by the Supreme Court.
The amendment: “The Congress shall have the power to regulate or control contributions and spending in federal elections.” James Madison never thought his freeing of speech would be limited, or speech taken away from the poor. Five of the last six amendments to the Constitution deal with elections. This is more important than any of the five.
As senator, I introduced this amendment and received a bipartisan majority vote but not the two-thirds required for a Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution. The Governors’ Conference called and asked that I add the states to my amendment. The states would easily ratify. This Constitutional amendment does not commit to any solution. It only authorizes a later Congress to determine the limits. The able senator from New Mexico Tom Udall has proposed this amendment but is having trouble getting it considered. Washington doesn’t mind the office being for sale because they are in the best position to buy it. Pressure from the public would help.
To be elected the seventh time to the U.S. Senate in 1998, I had to raise and spend $8.5 million. This factors out to raising $30,000 a week, each week, every week for six years. Today it would take millions more. I used to go through the courthouse and fire stations campaigning. Now all I see is supporters at fundraisers.
Today the public servant never gets a feel for the public. When money is limited, the senator will know the public and have time to work for the country instead of the party. When money is limited, partisanship is limited and the office can’t be bought. When money is limited, lobbyists are limited and the people regain control of their government.
Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings retired in 2003 after 38 years in the Senate. A former governor of South Carolina, he offers periodic commentaries at www.FritzHollings.com.
Keeping up with the scoundrels
To the editor:
When I travel out of state, I hate to tell folks where I am from. If I do it immediately goes to one of our political scandals. How can we be such a family oriented, Christian state when we continue to elect Republicans who break the law and even worse.... Sin!Thanks so much for helping us keep score on these scoundrels! [Commentary, 3/16] Your journalism is what we need shared around the state. You should make a special Republican Press for those folks that just turn their heads and vote R! Perhaps if the D folks can get organized, change can come! Thanks for your good work!
-- Bob Noe, Columbia, SC
Drop us a line: We encourage you to share your opinions. Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less. Please include your name and contact information.
A big fat "F" and more
Haley. A circuit court judge this week dismissed a lawsuit filed against Gov. Nikki Haley that claimed she had worked as a lobbyist while serving in the state House of Representatives – not because of the merit of the charges, but because the judge ruled it was the wrong venue. Haley may not be out of the woods. Now the charges, brought by a former GOP head of the BEA, goes to the State Ethics Commission, which hastened Ken Ard’s departure from office. More.
Occupy. The Occupy Columbia protesters returned to camping on Statehouse grounds this week, showing there is a measure of political freedom in South Carolina. Then the House fast-tracked a bill to ban them. More.
DHEC. Newly-installed DHEC executive director Catherine Templeton added four new positions, all executives, at a cost of $400k a year to help her run the agency. Cheaper than consultants, maybe, but expensive first hires, certainly. More. Resigned. Rep. Thad Viers (R-Horry) resigned his seat in the House Wednesday, citing a pending indictment for him having allegedly harassed his former girlfriend. Viers, 34, said the investigation into his “love letters” was politically motivated. He was indicted on stalking and harassment charges Thursday. More on the resignation. More on the indictment.
Corruption. South Carolina garnered an “F” in issues of governmental transparency, in contrast with New Jersey, who scored highest in an investigation done by national center for public integrity. More.