S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, May 14, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0514.scideas.htm

Lawmakers should look to the long term
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 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 percent.

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 a year.)


We encourage your feedback. If you'd like to respond to something in SC Statehouse Report, please send us an e-mail. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. One submission allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:


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 three-month period.

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 called "Bugging the Palmettos."

lighter side

5/14: Directionally challenged

Another great cartoon from 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.

Recent feedback


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

Thumbs up

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 Herald-Journal.

In the middle

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 misguided veto.

Thumbs down

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 … House of Representatives …" 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 House"

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 SCEA.

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
  • Blogroll -- a weekly summary of the best of South Carolina political blogs.
  • 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


South Carolina Statehouse Report

Publisher: Andy Brack
Editor: Jerry Ausband
Assistant Editor: Betsy Brack

Phone: 843.670.3996 Fax: 843.722.9887

Subscription or sponsorship Inquiries: info@statehousereport.com

Have an event for the SC Statehouse Report calendar? E-mail details to: news@statehousereport.com or fax to above number.

For additional information, including subscription prices, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.

AVAILABLE NOW: "Bugging the Palmettos," a new book of commentaries from Statehouse Report's Andy Brack, is now available for just $15.00. Click here to learn more and buy the book.

Just a quick note to let you know how you missed out this week. If you were a subscriber to the paid edition of Statehouse Report, you would have received the information below on Friday AND you would have gotten other special features:

  • JERRY AUSBAND: Looking at a (TERI)ffic nest egg
  • LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Next week in the House and Senate
  • RADAR SCREEN: Looking ahead for a few months
  • TALLY SHEET: Newly-filed legislation
  • BLOGROLL: Kudos to Davis, more
  • MEGAPHONE: Nothing like being cutting edge

For more information, contact us today about our affordable paid subscriptions for businesses and organizations that need the inside scoop at the Statehouse.

Visit Statehouse Report


A blog on ideas and news that is for Southern policy leaders, analysts and more.



  Copyright 2006, Statehouse Report LLC, which is affiliated with The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.
Reproduction is prohibited without express permission of the publisher. For additional information, including subscription prices, go to