S.C. Statehouse Report
Dec. 21, 2003
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/03.1221.sleepers.htm

Sleeper issues could become bigger deal this session
By Andy Brack
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.

In 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 deaths.



McLEMORE'S WORLD: What really happened underground

FEEDBACK: 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 getting met."

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 state ports.

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:

12/16: You are wrong on taxation

To the editor:

Regarding your contention that I don’t pay too much in taxes compared to other states, I think you are wrong. I don’t 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®


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