June 6, 2004
More of the same
already on tap for next year
SC Statehouse Report
6, 2004 - - Next year's big-ticket legislative agenda won't
look much different than this year's. That's because state
lawmakers, who ended their session Thursday, didn't pass many
major initiatives this year.
So the front burner for next year is already full. On the
legislative stove will be renewed efforts to restructure administrative
rules to minimize duplication, boost efficiencies and change
how constitutional officers are selected.
Also on tap will be a major effort to review the state's
tax code. This year, a plan by Gov. Mark Sanford to reduce
income tax rates failed, as did plans to cut property tax
rates. Next year, lawmakers may take a bigger-picture approach
to figuring out how to reform the state's tax structure to
ensure adequate revenues, but reduce the burden of property
tax - - even though economists say the state's taxing structure
is relatively well-balanced.
Lawmakers also will take another crack at reforming the civil
justice system - - so-called "tort reform." A deal
to change rules on venues and to cap damage awards for some
kinds of business lawsuits fell victim to filibustering and
obstinance of some doctors, lawyers and business interests.
"All of it bogged down," Senate President Pro Tem
Glenn McConnell said about moves to pass restructuring, tax
relief and tort reform. "All of it will be back."
State Sen. Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg, blamed lawmakers'
sloth on the coming 2004 elections in November in which all
House and Senate seats are up for grabs.
"After an ambitious start, the pressures of the election
cycle took over," he said. "We were able to handle
the fundamentals well, such as the budget, paying off the
deficit, and reforms to campaign finance, telecommunications
and economic development, but we left unfinished restructuring,
tax reform and tort reform."
House Democrats gave the Republican-controlled General Assembly
a big failing grade in education, health care, economic development,
public safety and budget efforts. Among other things, they
said lawmakers underfunded public education, failed to reform
Medicaid to provide a stable source of revenue for affordable
health care and presided over a time of record-setting job
loss without a plan to fix it.
The only non-failing grade issued to the GOP by House Democrats
was a C-minus on the environment. The main reason for the
barely passing grade appears to be because the state kept
a $10 million commitment to fund the new Conservation Land
Bank. But Dems complained about erosion of environmental protections
and failure to restore trust funds raided in the past from
House Minority Leader James Smith, D-Columbia, was blunt
in his criticism: "The governor and Republican majority
in the House and Senate have squandered the trust the people
have given them in the power of governance."
Still, state lawmakers did get some things done this year.
While not as sweeping as proposed restructuring or tax reform,
these initiatives will change people's lives:
- Property tax cap. Lawmakers approved a 20 percent
property tax reassessment cap, which will provide relief
for rich folks and poor folks with valuable property. In
growing areas, it means middle-class homeowners may pay
more in property taxes.
- Economic development. Members approved a bill to
allow the state's three research universities to borrow
more to fund research and passed a venture capital fund
to help lure technology companies.
- Tax conformity. They approved changes to state
law to conform to federal law on estate taxes and to eliminate
a marriage tax penalty - - income tax cuts worth more than
$50 million to South Carolinians.
- Deficit. Gov. Mark Sanford deserves credit for
putting the state's $155 million deficit on the legislative
radar screen. After lawmakers found extra cash due to better
economic projections, they paid off the deficit in one fell
- PSC overhaul. Legislators changed the way members
of the Public Service Commission are elected and how it
- Education. They provided $150 million more for
basic education spending, but still fell about $300 per
student short of state mandated levels. They also approved
measures to allow USC Sumter to open as a four-year campus
and for Trident Tech to start a culinary arts program.
- Minibottles. They approved a measure to let voters
decide on a constitutional amendment whether to allow free-pour
liquor in bars and restaurants.
Bottom line: State lawmakers laid the groundwork this year
for some major changes, but put significant efforts off until
6/6: A 17-year itch
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
5/31: Disagrees with analysis
To the editor:
I disagree with your analysis (Commentary,
5/30) of the Governor's pigs..It is time we have a
Governor who has enough principle to stand up to the Legislators
who unfortunately happen to be 90 percent private business
surrogates instead of representatives of THE PEOPLE....Standing
up to Pork for Private Business risk needs to halt and halt
soon or our state will be so far in debt that voters will
be forced to fund public services with their own private funds,
in addition to taxes. Millions of tax dollars here and millions
of tax dollars there to "For Profit Businesses"
will mean NONE for tax dollars anywhere...Enough is Enough!
Pork is Pork with or without a pig.
-- Bob Logan, We The People of Horry County
To the editor:
You say that Governor Sanford "...embarrassed state
lawmakers. He embarrassed fellow Republicans, whocontrol the
House and Senate." Good for him! It's about time.
You speak of honey versus vinegar, but "honey" is
just another word for going along with the Good Ol' Boy system
of government. If the people had wanted someone who would
just go along with everything, they wouldn't have elected
I believe that Sanford was elected because the people wanted
to see change, and see more efficient use of taxpayers' money.
I am very glad that he has decided to take a stand.
I applaud Governor Sanford for embarrassing legislators who
can't seem to eliminate pork from their diets.
-- Doug Kendall, Columbia, SC
SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
House Dems. For the first time in awhile, House Democrats
showed some leadership in highlighting legislative deficiencies.
But criticism is easy. Now they need to show some leadership,
be better members of the opposition and learn to debate.
Isolated wetlands. Thank goodness a bad Realtor-backed
bill on freshwater wetlands didn't make it through.
Graham. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was successful in
the Senate this week in getting approval of an amendment that
would reclassify millions of gallons of high-level nuclear
waste at Savannah River Site as low-level -- all with the
stroke of a pen. Changing its name doesn't make it any less
harmful. Graham hasn't helped the state lose its reputation
of being a dumping ground.
How you can subscribe to the full edition
of the report
The above version of S.C. Statehouse Report is the
free edition. Our paid version, which costs about $100 per
month, offer a weekly legislative forecast packed with information
that can keep you and your business on the cutting edge.
Notes veteran lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell: "Statehouse
Report gives an inside practical report of weekly problems
with and progress of legislation. It reviews the whole landscape."
In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get::
Hot issue -- an early peek at weekly commentary
on something really big. Last year, we continually beat
other news organizations in finding major trends in issues,
from teacher and budget cuts to wetlands proposals.
Agenda -- a weekly forecast of the coming week's
Radar Screen -- a behind-the-scenes look at what's
really going on in the General Assembly
McLemore's World -- an early view of our respected
cartoonist Bill McLemore.
Tally Sheet -- a weekly review of all of the new
bills introduced in the legislature in everyday language
Scorecard -- A Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down of major
political/policy events for the week.
Calendar -- a weekly list of major meetings for
the House, Senate and state agencies.
Megaphone -- a quote of the week that you'll find
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