Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mileage Cap Proposal

Today's topic, set for special order, is S. 969. This is a mileage cap proposal. It basically does three things:
1>adds language to the constitution defining the reasons for a potential tax increase and requiring counties to enumerate them on the ballot. They include: a deficiency in the preceding year, any catastrophic event outside the control of the governing body, or compliance with a court order or decree.
2>limits the ability of school districts to increase mileage to the equivalent of the most recent three-year rolling average of personal income growth as determined by the US Department of Commerce.
3>limits all other jurisdiction to the above formula unless an ordinance passed by the governing body is approved by the voters at a general election.
Unfortunately, current and future bonded indebtedness, for all jurisdictions, is excluded from these caps. This raises two obvious questions. First, why would we limit mileage increases for operations but not buildings? Shouldn't voters have the right to decide if their local government should build buildings? Second, if we leave capital bonds unregulated, does this perpetuate the possibility of every county in South Carolina auditing the Greenville Plan, whereby those taxpayers assumed over $1 billion in bonded debt without even as much as a chance to vote on it? There are amendments addressing these. Will they pass?
This is a debate for taxpayers to watch. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Democrats Reckless Again

Bill S. 960 is a constitutional amendment to cap property assessments. The proposed ammendment to the amendmment by Senate Democrats appeared on its surface to simply cut property taxes, but in reality, it severely damages the intent of S. 960. Before we talk about a swap, lets put in a series of safeguards for the remaining property taxes.

S. 960 is the first safeguard and should not be "mucked" up and here's why:
First, the amendment removes the funding for school operations. It does not, however, give any indication of how that funding would be re-supplied. This method of legislating reflects the height of fiscal irresponsibility Democrats are so famous for. South Carolina has only recently emerged from several years of budget deficits caused by creating recurring programs without a recurring source of spending. Furthermore, if the citizens of South Carolina want to send the responsibility of school funding to the state level, they deserve to understand how that responsibility will be met. South Carolinians deserve better from their government than empty promises, and this amendment amounted to nothing more than that.

Second, the amendment actually opens the door for future tax increases on the local level. While it does prevent taxing property for school operating funds, it specifically endorses taxing property for capital bonds, i.e. buildings. Down the road we'll be right back where we started on property taxes except we will also have sales taxes through the roof: possibly 4 extra cents had we accepted the amendment.

Third, the amendment advocates a statewide property tax. I have said from the beginning, that I will never vote to swap taxes that are not revenue neutral. Without some indication of where the money to operate schools would come from, I cannot be sure this is revenue neutral. Fortunately Republicans tabled the amendment and the clean version of S. 960 passed the required 2/3 vote for constitutional amendments.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Property Assessment Cap

Today, the Senate will pass legislation freezing property reassessment at the point of sale. This goes a long way to providing the relief that property owners across South Carolina are demanding. While the legislation does not go as far as I and others might have wanted (for instance it includes an annual inflation factor of up to 3%), taxpayer advocates did score one additional victory yesterday. Before we talk about a swap, lets cap assessments.
The legislation allows for voters, by county, to decide if they prefer to move to the point of sale reassessment or stay with the status quo of reassessment every five years. Moreover, the legislation would allow voters to reverse their decision five years down the road by another ballot initiative.
Senator Greg Ryberg, and his brilliant staff, caught a sentence in the bill that would have allowed county councils to reverse the will of the voters simply by passing an ordinance to do so, whether the voters wanted it or not. Ryberg fought for an amendment that would allow county councils to pass such an ordinance but would allow it to take effect ONLY upon ratification by the voters.
I had asked a question about this in committee and was glad to vote for the amendment to ensure that voters will always control the method by which their property is reassessed.
Another victory for the folks who put the taxpayers first.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Republican Straw Poll

Last night in Anderson County I had the chance to meet with over 200 of my closest friends. The County Republican Party Convention had a straw poll. Below are the results:
Gov: Sanford 93.55%; Lovelace 8.06%
Lt. Gov.: Bauer 88.71%; Campbell 12.90%
Treasurer: Ryberg 69.35%; Quinn 17.74%; Willis 14.52%
Sec. Of State: Hammond 98.36%; Floyd 1.64%
Ag. Com.: Bell 50.00%; Weathers 50.00%
Sec. Of Education: Floyd 85.48%; Staton 8.06%; Wood 6.45%; Mofley 0.00%; Ryan 0.00%

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Property Tax Assessment Freeze

Today's discussion concerns property tax reform, specifically reassessment. Senator Martin is making opening remarks on the Senate Judiciary bill that would allow reassessment only at the point of sale, unless local citizens voted proactive to do otherwise. To me, this is the most crucial part of property tax reform. If we are successful in eliminating owner occupied property taxes, we need a safe guard for the remaining property taxes, particularly businesses.
The debate quickly devolved into an episode of class warfare. Senator Martin tried to explain that relief goes to everyone, which one would think would please the other side as the self-styled party of the people.
Unfortunately, they seem bent on attempting to derail meaningful property tax reform with the same old tired arguments Democrats rant on. It doesn't seem like they've learned their lesson yet.

$urplus update

I hope some of you got to see the debate yesterday. Unfortunately, I believe it was overshadowed in today's news coverage by the House debate on property tax. As it turned out, the debate moved away from the merits of using the 2005-2006 surplus to repay our debt to the trust and reserve funds and then improve secondary roads. Instead, we ended up talking about the process.
"The process" refers to the way things really work in the South Carolina Senate. Those opposed to the amendment designed to repay the trust funds argued that it hadn't gone through the process of sub-committee and full committee. Indeed, it hadn't, and that was, in my eyes, one of its merits.
If a large chunk of money, such as the estimated $275,000,000 plus we're talking about here, goes through the process, the outcome is unknown. It may be spent as we proposed, or it may be divided up in to numerous local projects. Thus the debate yesterday was really about whether we were going to do the fiscally responsible thing and repay our debts or whether we were going to submit to the process and use the budget as a grab-bag. There are many legitimate needs, but I would prefer to pay off the debts, then channel the money to either our deteriorating roads and/or to the taxpayer.
This is where you folks need to weigh in. Let me know what you think of this debate and the way the SC Senate treats your money. I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

$urplus to Trust Funds, School Buses, and Secondary Roads

If you're reading this but not looking at the video feed, turn it on. What's going on now is a debate over whether or not to repay the trust and reserve funds raided by the General Assembly over the last several years with current surplus dollars. The proposal puts $173 million back into trust funds that were raided during budget shortfall years. The total amount of dollars is uncertain, but should be at least $275 million and may reach $500 million. After the trust funds are replenished, $13 million will go to school bus purchases, and then what's left will be directed to our secondary roads in desperate need of repair. I think of the fatal accident earlier this year when a local businessman ran off the dilapidating bridge on Brown road. Could these funds prevent these types of accidents? I would think so.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Eminent Domain S. 1038

Next week we'll have the first chance to discuss eminent domain on the floor. The bill, S. 1038, strengthens South Carolina's strictures on the use of eminent domain. The salient part of this bill is, "A mere public purpose or public benefit, including, but not limited to, the purpose or benefit of economic development, does not constitute the requisite public use for property to be condemned by eminent domain."
This eliminates the possibility of a situation such as that in Connecticut where the town took private property and gave it to a developer because, they said, the redevelopment would serve the public good.
I don't imagine that even the strongest proponents of big government will object to this, but you never know.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wednesday 02.01.06

Happy Birthday Ann Bryant! Other than that, there's not much to report from the floor. We have no major legislation on the calendar that is not being held by one senator or another. Indeed, there are only two pieces of legislation without holds on them. This is the norm in the Senate. Despite the rules changes of 2005, a clogged calendar remains a way of life.

I would be interested to hear from ya'll on any subject of your choosing. I'd be especially interested in your thoughts on some of the upcoming races. Does anybody have a chance against Sanford? What about the Superintendent of Education--are all the candidates true reformers? Then there's my favorite electoral topic, Treasurer. You know I'm supporting Greg Ryberg, but I wonder what you think on this race. E-mail with your thoughts on these or any other issues. I look forward to hearing form you.