S.C. Statehouse Report
Dec. 21, 2003
Sleeper issues could
become bigger deal this session
SC Statehouse Report
DEC. 21, 2003 - - Every legislative session, there are a couple
of issues that slumber until there's a golden opportunity to spring
to the top of the legislative agenda.
2004, lawmakers will be preoccupied and consumed with the state
budget, tax reform and restructuring. As the session drags on, there's
a great likelihood some of these "sleeper" issues will
awaken when there's an opportunity.
The advantage, of course, for politicians pushing a sleeper issue
is they are able to take the process somewhat by surprise. While
most are looking in another direction, they could maneuver something
through the General Assembly that has a bigger impact than any one
ever thought. The down side is the issue might not be as fully debated
or considered as it would have been were lawmakers not so consumed
by the big issues.
In the coming session, there are several issues that could nab
an opportunity. After interviews with about a dozen people involved
in the legislative process, here's a list of some major issues that
might be awaken from a snooze this year:
Tougher seat belt laws. Even though studies show more South
Carolinians are wearing seatbelts, the state ranks third in highway
traffic fatalities. Editorialists have been pushing recently for
tougher seat belt laws. Lawmakers are looking at it.
Tougher drunken driving laws. South Carolina also has the
highest rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths. Even though lawmakers
lowered the drunken driving limit from a 0.01 blood alcohol level
to 0.008, lawmakers will be under pressure to cut alcohol-related
WORLD: What really happened underground
Wrong on taxation
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State Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon, believes fatalities would drop
if the state had more troopers on the highways. The State Patrol
is down nearly 300 troopers, he said, due to budget cuts.
"One of these days, we'll wake up and understand cheaper isn't
always better," he said.
Water compact. There's increasing interest in ways South
Carolina and nearby states can share water. But if South Carolina's
liberal water use laws remain intact, the state may not be able
to enforce any agreements it develops with neighbors.
"Water issues are really percolating to the top of our list
of problems," said Rep. Seth Whipper, D-Charleston.
School funding. In recent news, state Superintendent Inez
Tenenbaum highlighted that state schools need more than $450 million
to meet federally-imposed standards. In addition, the state faces
millions of dollars in school funding liabilities if a judge in
an equity funding trial rules rural schools have been shortchanged
over the years.
"Rural areas are on the verge of being forgotten," said
S.C. Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington. "Our needs are just not
Prison guards. The state currently has the highest vacancy
rate for corrections guards in the South. If some kind of funding
isn't found to hire and keep more guards, South Carolina's prisons
could become more dangerous.
Port security. Lawmakers worry the state could be a terrorism
target because of the state's huge port operations in Charleston.
Some legislators want to see legislation to tighten security at
Local ordinances. A bill before the General Assembly would
limit local communities' ability to set ordinances tougher than
state standards. County and municipal groups are vehemently opposed
to this proposal. While it is expected to die, this bill stemming
from a reaction to local efforts to keep out mega-hog farms could
rise to the top again.
Information technology. With all of the focus on restructuring,
lawmakers could consider changing the states information technology
framework to make it more streamlined and less duplicative, S.C.
Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Richland, said.
Bottom line: While the headlines will focus on big-ticket legislative
items next year, the sleeper issues may have a more sweeping impact
on you down the road.
What really happened underground
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
You are wrong on taxation
To the editor:
Regarding your contention that I dont pay too
much in taxes compared to other states, I think you are wrong. I
dont dispute that real property tax on my owner-occupied home
is close to that our neighboring states, but we are still higher.
And there is no disputing that our state income tax rate is higher
than North Carolina and Georgia. I do agree that our sales taxes
are a bit lower than our neighbors.
But you are dead wrong when you factor in personal property. I
have lived in both North Carolina and Georgia, our immediate neighbors,
in the last five years. An automobile (that I still own) was taxed
in Fulton County Georgia (one of the highest property tax areas
of Georgia) at $80 a year when I left. The same automobile two years
earlier in Forsyth County North Carolina was taxed at about $160.
Today that car is 11 years old, has 148,000 miles on it, and Lexington
County South Carolina taxes it at $280 a year. I own three cars
and my total property tax bite on them is more than $2,000 a year.
When you throw in personal property tax, which is often ignored,
we take a lot bigger hit here in South Carolina than many people
are willing to admit.
And by the way, I have owned similar homes in all three states
in terms of value. The property taxes in North Carolina were definitely
lower (and I was paying municipal taxes too). Georgia was about
the same as my home here in Lexington, but since I bought my home
in 2001 my property taxes have marched up 20%. That never happened
anywhere else I lived.
You can make numbers say anything you want, but I have experience
to make my comparison by. South Carolina over-taxes its citizens
and to compound matters, we waste a lot it. It is time to stop talking
about where new money for government is going to come from and time
to start talking about how we are spending the money we have.
-- Michael E. Dey, Director of Government Affairs, South Carolina
Association of REALTORS®