By Paul Gable
The S.C. General Assembly appears to be waging war on local governments based on some of the proposed bills gaining traction in this session.
For an assemblage whose members cry like babies when they perceive the federal government interfering with South Carolina’s own particular definition of state’s rights, the S.C. General Assembly has no compunction when doing exactly the same thing or worse to its local governments.
Hypocrisy thy name is South Carolina legislators.
While the S.C. General Assembly has never fully implemented home rule for local governments, this year’s edition appears to be attempting to reverse what implementation exists.
Three areas of special interest in this year’s legislative session deal with the local government fund, business license fees and forcing maintenance of state roads onto the backs of the counties.
The local government fund is a transfer of state revenue to local governments to help fund state mandated agencies that are funded with local government money. The S.C. House, particularly (H.3374), is looking to change the funding formula, which it has rarely fully funded in the past anyway, to essentially gut the local government fund.
This will force county governments to spend more their tax revenue on state agencies, meaning less for local government services.
In like manner, and probably even more draconian in its effects, is a bill (H.3337) that will seriously limit business license fees, one of the two main sources of revenue for municipal governments especially.
Among its provisions would be an annual maximum fee limit of $100 for business licenses. For a city like Myrtle Beach, for example, this would mean an annual reduction in budget revenue of approximately $20 million (or 30 percent of the city’s general fund budget).
While the business owners of the large tourist related venues might like this limitation, how long would that attitude last when public safety services are cut and cannot respond to their properties during tourist season?
Last among the three is the apparent intent of the S.C. House to transfer maintenance costs of approximately 50 percent of the current state road network to the counties.
While H.3579 proposes to increase the amount of C funds that counties accepting these state roads will receive, there is absolutely no guarantee in the legislation that county governments will receive those funds.
Instead, the C funds will be remitted to newly constituted County Transportation Committees, who are appointed by the respective county legislative delegations and really must answer to no one as to how that money is spent, except possibly the legislator who has a pet project he or she wants funded.
If the proposed bills in these three areas of local government concern pass this session, you will hear state legislators boasting of how they reduced taxes and promoted limited government.
What they won’t tell you is that local governments will face increased difficulty in providing local services, (such as public safety, infrastructure and the like) with less means to fund those services.
Maybe these legislators are hoping they will collect even more campaign donations from the uninformed public that buys into this propaganda. Then, these legislators will have even more money to spend on neckties, porcelain figurines and foreign vacations.