Sunday, May 14, 2006
should look to the long term
SC Statehouse Report
14, 2006 - - With just three weeks before the end of this
year's legislative session, most lawmakers probably figure
they only have time to finish with two big items - - the $5.6
billion state budget and property tax reform.
But there's a lot more they could do to make a real impact
in the lives of South Carolinians:
Raise the minimum wage. Some 17 states have passed
a higher minimum hourly wage than the $5.15 federal minimum
set in 1995. Anybody with a lick of sense knows $5.15 per
hour, which earns a worker less in annual wages than the poverty
level, buys a lot less than it did 11 years ago.
In fact, South Carolina has the 10th largest growth in income
inequality in the nation over the last generation, according
to a January 2006 study by the Center for Budget and Policy
Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. It said the
richest 20 percent of families in the Palmetto State have
average incomes that are seven times that of the lowest 20
Raising the minimum wage would be a good first step to improving
the lives of thousands of South Carolinians at the bottom
and, as S.C.-born Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has
said, increasing the minimum wage likely wouldn't lower employment.
Limit sales tax exemptions. The state of South Carolina
currently gives away more than $1 billion a year in sales
tax exemptions to special interests. According to the S.C.
Office of Research and Statistics, the state has more than
60 sales tax exemptions that cause the state to lose revenue
on everything from the sale of newspapers and newsprint (a
$9.4 million industry tax break) to electricity ($152.6 million
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Over the last 50 years, special interests have lobbied and
won these big tax breaks, some of which make competitive sense.
But the General Assembly should review these breaks to ensure
they're continuing to achieve the policy goals for which they
first were established. If they're not, they should be removed.
In turn, the state could realize more revenue - - or use the
money to lower the sales tax rate and make the state more
competitive as a whole.
Property taxes. It almost seems a coincidence that
the amount of money lawmakers are trying to get from raising
the sales tax by 2 cents to replace property taxes is about
the same as the amount it loses in sales tax exemptions. Lawmakers
have been spinning around for months looking for ways in a
campaign year to accede to the wishes of squeaky wheels who
want lower property taxes. While the House and Senate may
reach a compromise plan by the end of the session on June
1, it might be smarter for lawmakers to put off the decision
until they really study the issue and impact a little more.
From a public policy perspective, that would make the most
sense because elimination of a lot of property taxes would
make the state more vulnerable to economic cycles.
Early childhood education. Another coincidence: the
House and Gov. Mark Sanford are pushing gasoline sales tax
relief, which would cut the state gas tax for three months
from October through December. The measure would cost the
state some $100 million, or about $30 per consumer over the
The same amount of money would create a good early childhood
education system to give a lot of children a better chance
of succeeding in life. Even though gas prices are high, if
people had a choice to spend $30 to create opportunities that
will pay long-term dividends for the state instead of a short-term
tax break, many would pick the long-term option.
Cigarette taxes. State lawmakers so far have shelved
plans to raise cigarette taxes, which are the lowest in the
nation at 7 cents per pack. If the state were to raise these
taxes to $1 per pack, it would realize more than $220 million
annually and curb smoking. Eventually that would cause the
amount of revenue to decline, but fewer people would be smoking,
which would save billions in future health care costs.
It's tough to make public policy decisions. In modern politics,
choices often are dumbed-down to soundbites. But lawmakers
should look beyond the next election for the big picture.
They should look at long-term impacts and benefits of choices
they make. If they do, they might decide it's much better
to fund a program that can help thousands of kids get a leg
up at school or save thousands of lives by curbing smoking,
instead of a tax break to get them past the next election.
Veteran political observer Andy Brack,
publisher of SC Statehouse Report, has a new book of columns
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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
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a connection, Butch
Robbins, Hilton Head Island, SC
- 2/24: Block the
sale of national forest land, Elizabeth Bailey, Darlington
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
Hawkins: Several Republicans and Democrats
railed publicly against the governor's veto of raising fines
for not buckling in children in moving vehicles. But it was
Sen. John Hawkins, the Spartanburg Republican and bill co-author
who took on his party's governor. He made an impression of
not being afraid to speak his mind: "If an adult doesn't
wear a seat belt, they are making a conscious decision. A
child can't appreciate the danger." More: Spartanburg
Sanford: Gov. Mark Sanford won high praise from drivers
and from his supporters in the Legislature, especially Sen.
Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, for proposing a taxless summer on South
Carolina sales of gasoline. However, Democratic Party Executive
Director Lachlan McIntosh immediately opined that Sanford
must be worried about his primary in about a month because
last September, he said he would take no such action. But
we haven't heard from any transportation supporters or the
Highway Department, already in financial trouble, about the
governor's wanting to take 16.75 cents a gallon - about $40
million a month -from highway construction.
Sanford again: The governor has been overridden again,
this time on a bill that should have been signed after it
passed both houses. This one raises the fine for not correctly
buckling children in car seats to $150, from $25. The governor
deserved his comeuppance, 26-3 in the Senate and 60-14 in
the House. That means 17 senators and 50 representatives did
not vote at all, numbers hardly any more exciting than another
Page: The president of the South Carolinians for
Responsible Government, Randy Page, said in reaction to the
House voting down, 59-52, a school choice amendment, "Unfortunately,
there are still a large number of cowards in the
" That, from a pressure lobbying
group against public schools that refuses to open its books
for ethics examination. More: The
Sun News, May 4, "School-choice plan shot down in
Edge: "[C]ommunism fell because people had no
choices. Today's schools system wants you to have no choices,"
Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, said May 3 on the House
floor in pursuing his amendment to create a school-choice
law. It was an unfortunate comment, to say the least, that
linked public schools and communism. More: The
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