S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 26, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0926.stealth.htm

More than candidates on November ballots
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

SEPT. 26, 2004 -- A message from a reader this week led to a surprising discovery: there’s a constitutional referendum that made its way onto the November ballot as quietly as a parent tiptoeing past a sleeping child.

Call it the stealth referendum.

Amendment Question Two calls for the state constitution to be amended to delete a limitation on the number of corporate shareholders necessary to get a lower property tax assessment rate on agricultural land. Currently, certain corporations of 10 or fewer shareholders get a 4 percent rate, while agricultural land owned by corporations owned by more than 10 people are assessed at a 6 percent corporate rate.

Yes, it’s an arcane measure, admits Rep. Walt McLeod, the Little Mountain Democrat who introduced the matter in 2003 and helped push for its approval in the waning days of this year’s legislative session.

There's only a few more days that you're eligible to register to vote in the November elections. More information: SC Election Commission

But it’s an important change that will have two major benefits. First, removing the limitation will allow the state to simplify its tax code and conform with federal law, which currently has a 75-shareholder limitation on “S” corporations before a higher tax assessment kicks in.

Secondly, and more importantly, lowering the tax assessment ratio for agricultural land should encourage more land sales and raise property values, McLeod said. More sales, even with a lower rate, eventually will result in higher tax collections for counties, which are increasingly strapped for money.

“There’s a silver lining to have real estate transfer periodically,” McLeod said. “Any way you can elevate the value of land, it’s in the best interest of the tax collector” – and the seller.

In addition to important elections involving Republicans and Democrats, this year’s ballots also contain a constitutional referendum on liquor minibottles - - those tiny bottles that tourists marvel at when they want a mixed drink in a South Carolina bar.


McLEMORE'S WORLD: In memory of Jack Hensley

SCORECARD: Who's up and down



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Amendment Question One would allow the General Assembly to “determine the size of containers in which alcoholic liquors or beverages are sold and to delete the provision requiring the sale of alcoholic liquors for consumption on the premises only in sealed containers of two ounces or less.”

If you read the question carefully, it won’t get rid of minibottles, which some opponents pointed out in heated debates earlier this year. However, it will allow the General Assembly to follow up next year with “enabling legislation” to allow bars and restaurants to sell in bigger bottles - - something other than minibottles.

Word on the street is if the amendment passes, a compromise has been reached that would change liquor selections in retail stores. Currently, consumers can purchase large bottles of liquor in fifths (a fifth of a gallon) or liters. But liters reportedly haven’t ever caught on much with consumers.

So state lawmakers, in an effort to keep up with how much liquor is sold, reportedly would restrict liter-sized bottles of liquor only to bars and restaurants. That way, revenue agents could keep up easily with inventory and ensure the state was getting its share of liquor taxes.

Interestingly, little media coverage has surrounded the so-called “minibottle referendum.” Liquor distributors, many of whom oppose the referendum, aren’t planning a campaign against it, according to a story this month in the Myrtle Beach Sun News. Meanwhile, supporters of free-pour liquor are mounting a modest campaign, including club speeches, brochures and a Web site (http://www.safesc.com).

Voters in counties across the state also will have some local ballot measures to consider:

  • Capital improvements. Voters in Charleston and Beaufort counties will be asked to increase local sales taxes by a half cent and whole cent, respectively, for capital improvement projects.

  • Property tax relief. Voters in Georgetown and Spartanburg counties will be asked to increase local sales taxes by a cent and allow collections to offset property taxes.

  • Schools. Voters in Horry County and Richland School District 2 will be asked to make tax decisions to fund school upgrades.

  • Government. Officials in Chester County are debating addition of a question will be included that asks voters whether they want an elected supervisor to head county government.

These ballot questions aren’t as exciting as the often heated back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans. But because they have long-lasting impacts, it’s important to vote on them and not take a pass.


9/26: In memory of Jack Hensley

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:


The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


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

Thumbs up

Majority leader race. Now that Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Columbia, has stepped down as House majority leader, there's a race on between at least three hopefuls -- Reps. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island; Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca; and Rex Rice, R-Easley. Merrill is thought to be ahead slightly in the early horse race.

Thumbs down

Local governments. As evidenced by a strong push by the S.C. Press Association, most of the state's bigger newspapers believe local governments keep too many meetings secret and often violate the state open meetings law. Bring in the sunshine.

Port/Corps. A continuing spat between the S.C. Ports Authority and the U.S. Corps of Engineers isn't doing much to get a new port facility built at the Navy base. Come on guys -- check the egos and move it along.

Brown. Follow the latest on Rep. Henry Brown's troubles with the U.S. Forest Service: www.abouthenrybrown.com

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 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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