S.C. Statehouse Report
June 6, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0606.next.htm

More of the same already on tap for next year
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JUNE 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."


McLEMORE'S WORLD: The new draft

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week



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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 conservation accounts.

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 swoop.

  • PSC overhaul. Legislators changed the way members of the Public Service Commission are elected and how it operates.

  • 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 next year.

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

5/30: Libertarian applauds Sanford

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 Mark Sanford.

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


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

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.

Thumbs down

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.

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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 floor agenda

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 illuminating.

To learn more about subscriptions, contact Andy Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com


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