S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1211.rup.htm

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COMMENTARY
More than property tax reform on tap next year
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 11, 2005 - - With all of the headlines about property tax reform being the big issue of the 2006 legislative session, you’d think there wouldn’t be much time for anything else. But you’d be wrong, according to seasoned lawmakers.

“Every committee will have a couple of things it pushes,” said veteran GOP Rep. Jim Harrison of Columbia. “I don’t think the session is going to be so dominated by property tax reform that the other committees won’t be able to push out some good legislation.”

Based on several interviews over the past week, here is a look at other top issues facing the General Assembly in an election year:

Restructuring. Still on the table from previous sessions are measures to transform some of the state’s constitutional officers (agriculture secretary, secretary of state, state superintendent of education) into appointed positions. There also is a bill to consolidate administrative health functions and create a Department of Administration. Some say the proposals offer the best chance for Gov. Mark Sanford to achieve his first major legislative victory in four years.

Charter schools. Also on the table is a proposal to energize a charter school system. With gubernatorial support for a voucher program withdrawn recently for the coming election year, observers say a pro-charter school package is the most likely change for K-12 education that lawmakers will take on during the session.

Tuition caps. Sanford and others also have called for escalating tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities to be capped, or indexed, to a national standard to keep college affordable. Going from an open-market approach to an indexed cap would return the state to a practice of a few years back, said Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee.

“We certainly don’t want the cost of education to get out of reach for students and their families,” he said.

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Cigarette tax hike. Now that South Carolina has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation (7 cents per pack), some believe there may be increasing pressure to raise the tax to the national average, which could add millions to the state coffers and reduce cigarette smuggling from South Carolina to Northeast states. But others say the state appears to have rounded the corner economically and may not need the revenue as much as in recent tight years.

Workers’ compensation. A key issue for the state’s business lobby is to reform workers’ compensation rules to lower rates on businesses. While some see it as a key competitiveness issue, others, such as Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon, say the state currently has the 39th lowest rates in the country and a system that is pretty good.

Family court. Word around the Statehouse is lawmakers also will tinker with the state’s family court system to streamline the process and help make work of family court judges more focused. Observers say some administrative functions might be more wisely assigned to caseworkers to allow judges to work on bigger cases.

Isolated wetlands. Environmentalists and developers have butted heads over the last three sessions over ways to protect so-called isolated wetlands from rampant development. While there’s no major bill addressing wetlands protection yet, the sides reportedly still are working together to craft a compromise.

But as longtime Republican Sen. John Courson of Columbia noted, “Anything that is new that is really contentious is going to be very difficult to be passed.”

Freedom of information. Recent stories by media across the state highlighted how some elected officials bend open meetings rules a little too easily for executive sessions and how some law enforcement agencies create barriers to public records. Look for lawmakers to tweak open government laws to ensure public information is public.

Medicaid reform. After the legislative session ended this year, Sanford and state officials offered a way to reform Medicaid payments by creating privatized accounts for recipients. Lawmakers balked because they weren’t consulted. Several say they’ll weigh in on the subject in the coming year.

As you are considering the 2006 legislative session, it’s important to keep in mind that it also will be an election year. Any time folks get on the high horse of politics for electioneering purposes, just about anything can happen at the Statehouse.

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
12/11: Generic Christmas

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:



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FEEDBACK
12/7: Small businesses DO need help

To the editor:

Your article [Commentary, 12/4] came right on time for me. I've come across an idea to build jobs in the community that I reside in (Clio, where there are relatively none) right away, and everywhere I've turned to start the process I'm informed that it takes 120 days in order to do so. Most people in need of employment like myself and have an idea which can make them money can't afford to wait a 1/4 of the year in order to earn a living.

They'd be homeless before they can earn a living, so how to I expedite the process? I agree that there should be any easier road to travel in order to start a small business. With the current economic policies in this state and some others, there should be an easy 1, 2, 3, process for someone to start their own business.

I've recently moved into the area into my family's home they've had since the mid 50's and see that more people need work in their areas rather than having to travel hundreds of miles a day. A person who has little resources can go under in the process of just trying to start a business. Free enterprises are being stifled with bureaucracy and greed.

-- Tony Vaz, Clio, S.C.

12/6: Remember sole proprietorships

To the editor:

It's important to remember that the common definition of Small Business includes sole proprietorships, which helps explain why there are so many of them. In South Carolina, at least, that means that almost every real estate agent is a small business. Many more small businesses have no non-family employees.

Unless the Legislature is careful with the wording, tying loan eligibility to actual job creation, employment effects will be slight.

-- Amelia Dias, Charleston, S.C.

12/5: Laptops for students make sense

To the editor:

I like Andy Brack and his article supporting laptops for students. Now here is someone who at least can recognize that we can use technology to advance the science of learning.

I am all for providing students with laptops. The mechanics of how that is done can be worked and becomes a logistics and funding challenge, but the important thing is that we realize that times have changed and in order to provide our students with the advantage they need to compete in a global marketplace calls for a change in the way they get information. Hence, give them the edge they need to see global implications, learn anywhere, anytime and use the technology to leverage information.

Time to change the way we deliver knowledge to students. Take a bold stand, it is time for a change.

-- Richard Murdach, Tarpon Springs, Fla.

Recent feedback:


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

Campbell. Three cheers for Carroll Campbell's service to the State of South Carolina. While we may not have agreed with all of his politics, we respected his tenacity and love for moving the state forward. Rest in peace.

At the top. South Carolina scored tops in being prepared for health emergencies and ranked high in ensuring that 4-year-old students are ready to start school. Lesson learned: More investment is needed in prevention and education.

In the middle

Sanford. While it's laudable Gov. Mark Sanford wants to cap college tuition and create a $10 million fund to protect timberland, for both proposals to come days apart feels more like electioneering than anything. Seems these proposals could have been offered earlier.

Thumbs down

Eckstrom. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom got spanked when fellow Republican Attorney General Henry McMaster issued an opinion that he overstepped his authority in using millions in state money to repay an old deficit.

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