Tag: SC General Assembly

General Assembly Extends Tourism Tax

The SC General Assembly extended the tourism tax enabling legislation allowing for the extension of the tax on local residents and visitors through 2029.

Both the SC House and SC Senate overwhelmingly overrode the veto of Gov. Nikki Haley on House Bill 5011 making the extension of the tourism tax a virtual guarantee.

The very best part of the tax extension, for the business interests that want it, is that once again the tax can be imposed by a supermajority vote of Myrtle Beach City Council and the citizens will have no say in the process.

There is a provision in the bill that allows for a voter referendum on the question of extending the tax, instead of a vote by city council, but that’s merely window dressing. Myrtle Beach City Council doesn’t let those kinds of decisions go to the voters and it doesn’t say no to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber will be guaranteed hundreds of millions more public tax dollars to use in “out-of-area” marketing. I wonder how much of that is being used in China?

The hotel and golf course owners who control the Chamber board get to keep marketing dollars in their pocket while transferring those expenses to the taxpayer.

And we can hear 10 more years of “Oh yeah, it’s working” ads.

You have to give credit where it is due. This extension was slickly handled and was really never in doubt. So far, there have not even been whispers of how many, if any, sequentially numbered cashier’s checks, from those “like minded” individuals, were needed this time around to get the job done.

We are told free market capitalism is a wonderful thing. Maybe we can even experience it in Myrtle Beach, Horry County and South Carolina someday.

Until then, all those “anti-tax Republicans” we supposedly send to Columbia can continue to forget their campaign promises while continuing to practice crony capitalism and corporate welfare with our tax dollars.

No Renewal Yet on Tourism Tax

The decision on whether Myrtle Beach will be able to reimpose its tourism tax remains in question at this time.

The SC House adjourned debate on a bill (S1122) that would provide a means to reimpose the tourism tax if the bill passes.

Debate on the bill is now scheduled for Tuesday May 31, 2016.

The original bill passed the SC Senate unanimously, but the House amended the bill to eliminate a provision that would allow Myrtle Beach City Council to reimpose the tax by a supermajority vote of at least two-thirds of its members.

If the bill passes in its current, amended form, the tourism tax would have to pass a referendum of city voters in order to be reimposed.

Eighty percent of the revenue raised from the tax goes to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce for marketing the Myrtle Beach tourism attractions out of area.

Since being approved in 2009, the city has transferred in excess of $120 million to the Chamber. This has allowed the private tourism corporations to reduce their marketing budgets by as much as 95%.

Such a transfer of wealth from a public tax to benefit private businesses should be subject to approval by a voter referendum. Actually, it shouldn’t happen at all, especially in an area that prides itself on being so free market capitalist and conservative Republican.

It’s obvious the conservative politicians and their capitalist buddies don’t have a problem imposing taxes and spending the resulting revenue, just so long as it doesn’t come from their pockets.

The bill still has a couple of hurdles. It must pass two more readings in the House. If it passes there in its amended form, a compromise will have to be worked out with the Senate on whether or not to only allow reimposition of the tax after a favorable referendum of the voters.

Ignoring the Nikki Haley Influence

Now that the SC General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted to override the veto of the Farm Aid Bill by Gov. Nikki Haley, Time Magazine may want to rethink how influential Haley really is.

Time recently named Haley one of Time’s 100 Most Influential Leaders.

After losing votes of 39-3 in the SC Senate and 112-2 in the SC House, you have to seriously question if Haley is one of the 100 most influential people in Columbia. I would say no.

Haley’s veto of the Farm Aid Bill was always a loser.

There are over 25,000 farms in the state that cultivate over five million acres of land. When the October 2015 rains wiped out many crops, it was obvious many had suffered catastrophic loss.

It is estimated over $400 million of crops were destroyed by the resultant flooding.

But, aiding suffering farmers is not something that draws national headlines. Therefore, it is of no interest to Haley.

Haley had no problem declaring the “1000 year flood” and requesting federal aid for those affected by the storm.

She was merely unwilling to give some aid on the state level, aid that many farmers in South Carolina need, but does not put Haley’s name in national headlines.

While ignoring the plight of farmers around the state, Haley was more interested in the “A Great Day SC” PAC that is raising money to target state lawmakers Haley doesn’t like.

Included in the list of Haley hit targets is Horry County’s Luke Rankin.

Haley blames Rankin for the failure of the SC Senate to pass an Ethics Reform Bill.
Whether that characterization is fair or not, I would submit that Haley was the beneficiary several years ago of the same ethics laws that she now wants to change.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Nikki.

Important Week for Political Junkies

One of the most important weeks of the year for political junkies in the area is upon us.

On Tuesday, they should get a reasonable idea of how long the Republican Party can hold off the nomination of Donald Trump for president with another round of ‘Super Tuesday’ primaries in five important states.

For locals, however, Wednesday is even more important as filing opens at noon for a number of local offices and all seats in the SC General Assembly.

And the dynamics involved in this year’s political races make them even more interesting for those who follow politics.

Five countywide statutory offices are up for election – Auditor, Clerk of Court, Coroner, Sheriff and Treasurer. Normally these races bring little excitement, but this year two will be open seats and two more are expected to be contested.

Clerk of Court Melanie Huggins Ward and Treasurer Roddy Dickinson have announced they are retiring leaving their seats up for grabs in the primaries and general election.

Two others, Auditor Lois Eargle and Sheriff Philip Thompson are reported to have opposition this year for the first time in a number of years. Only Coroner Robert Edge appears not to have any opposition as filing opens.

Horry County Council will have five seats, Districts 3,4,6,9 and 10 up for election, as well as a special election to fill the unexpired term of retired member James Frazier in District 7.

To make it more interesting, council member Jody Prince is retiring, leaving his District 10 seat open and council members Jimmy Washington in District 3 and Cam Crawford in District 6 will be running for election for the second time in two years as both were elected to office in special election in 2015.

We are hearing reports of possible contested elections in Districts 3 and 9 at this time with District 10 having a number of possible candidates for the open seat. The District 7 seat is expected to have contests in both party primaries as well as the general election.

First Education Reform Bills in SC House

Eight bills were introduced into the SC House this week in what was called part of the first phase of the House Education Reform Package.

On first glance, it seems House education reform means more bureaucracy.

One proposal calls for the establishment of an authority that could borrow money on the state’s behalf to spend on school facilities. This is seen as a means for school districts with low tax bases to obtain money to repair deteriorating school buildings.

Another bill calls for recreating the Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council in an effort to “ensure our students are college and career ready.”

This goes along with a bill that would redefine the expectations of a South Carolina high school graduate. Sounds like the “minimally adequate education” that is now called for in state law is no longer good enough.

The bill that bothers me the most is H. 4777 that would allow the state to take over a school district that is failing financially. This has been tried in other states with minimal success at best.

I could be wrong, but these proposals sound like centralization of decision making, centralization of goals and centralization of new financial resources.

Historically, the SC General Assembly has sought to keep as much power and control in its hands as possible while giving only lip service to smaller government and home rule.

Gasoline Taxes and Roads on Tap in Columbia

An increase in the gasoline tax is part of the SC General Assembly debate on road funding and tax considerations this week.

This debate will potentially be the one that affects taxpayers the most in the coming years.

One thing I believe you can count on is that before this debate is finished and by the time next year’s budget kicks in, gasoline taxes in the state will have been increased.

South Carolina’s current 16.75 cents per gallon tax on gasoline is one of the lowest in the nation. Last year, the SC House passed a proposal to increase that tax by 10 cents per gallon.

The SC Senate Finance Committee is currently considering a proposal to increase the gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon.

When both Houses of the legislature are considering a tax increase, it’s a pretty good bet one will be forthcoming.

Additionally, with gasoline prices as low as they’ve been in 10 years, this is the perfect time to raise gasoline taxes because consumers have been accustomed to paying much more than the $1.60 or so per gallon currently charged at the pumps.

Along with the gasoline tax debate are proposals to reduce the state’s income tax.

This ploy was introduced by Gov. Nikki Haley last year and the legislature has picked up on it.

If you can get the taxpayers concentrating on how much they could save in reduced income taxes, maybe they won’t notice, or at least oppose, a gas tax increase.

Haley’s proposal last year even went so far as to call the increased gas tax combined with the reduced income tax “revenue neutral.”

SC General Assembly Bolsheviks?

It didn’t take long for ‘stupid’ to raise its head in the current legislative session of the SC General Assembly.
Yesterday state Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) introduced a bill to clamp down on the media in the state.

Called the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law”, Pitts proposes to set requirements for journalists working in the media, including registration requirements with the Office of the Secretary of State and fee payments.

Even Pitts acknowledges his bill stands no chance of passing (it is unconstitutional as well as being plain stupid). But, such is the way of the General Assembly in most years.

According to reports, Pitts told one media outlet his bill is meant to stimulate discussion of how the Second Amendment is treated in the press (according to Pitts’ interpretation of articles at least.)

If I get this right, we have a South Carolina lawmaker who wishes to violate the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech or of the press,” in order to guarantee the Second Amendment is not criticized.

That’s virtually straight out of Lenin and his Bolshevik revolution – grab control of the press so you control the message and eliminate all opposition to your political views.

I seriously doubt there is a nascent Communist Party rearing its head in Columbia, but ‘one never knows do one?’

Roads, Schools and Pensions Top Legislative Agenda

SC House Ways and Means chairman Brian White listed roads, schools and pensions as three priorities in the current SC General Assembly legislative agenda.

Since the Ways and Means Committee writes the budget, White’s priorities are important.
White issued the following press release yesterday as the General Assembly opened its legislative year:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 12, 2016

Ways and Means Committee Begins Committee Work

House Budget writers start deliberations

(Columbia, SC) – House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White (District 6-Anderson) today released the following statement:

“The Ways and Means Committee and its subcommittees have been meeting since November on the impact of the historic flooding and to hear budget requests but now that the legislative session has arrived we begin fully our comprehensive and open deliberations to fund state government for fiscal year 2016-17.

Our state’s excellent recent economic growth and prudent budget decisions the General Assembly made last year have resulted in $1.2 billion in unobligated general funds that are available in this year’s appropriations process. We also begin this year with significant obligations such as flood costs, the Abbeville school lawsuit, transportation funding, and a growing pension problem, not to mention state agency requests of over $2.1 billion. Ways and Means will weigh the requests and our responsibilities and be sensible stewards of taxpayer dollars while also providing for an accountable and responsible state government,” stated Chairman White.

Taxes, Flag Top 2015 News Stories

Taxes, Flag Top 2015 SC Newsies

Local tax increases and removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds topped the 2015 news stories.

Horry County Council passed the largest single tax increase in county history with a 7.2 mil increase in property taxes. Just for good measure, council also increased the road tax charged on every vehicle registered in the county by 67%.

Sold to the public as a means to increase public safety, the tax increase was really Horry County Council bowing to the will of county employees for a pay raise.

As council member Harold Worley said during debate of the tax increase, “Not one penny of the tax increase will go toward putting one extra officer on the street. Response times will not go down nor will community policing increase because of the tax increase.”

Adding insult to injury, the road annual tax was increased from $30 to $50 per vehicle, ostensibly to provide more money for maintenance of roads in the county road system.

Just a few months later, county council voted to use approximately $16 million in excess revenue from Ride II tax collections not for roads, but to buy a new radio system for public safety.

Five county council members will be up for re-election in 2016, but only one, Gary Loftus, voted to increase taxes.

Five of the six council members voting to raise taxes were elected or re-elected in 2014 and hope the voters will not remember this tax increase in 2018 when they face election again.

The statewide issue that was most intriguing was the removal of the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds.

This was done in just several days of a special session called by Gov. Nikki Haley. It demonstrated the General Assembly can act quickly when it wants to.

This special session followed a five month regular session when the General Assembly did absolutely nothing about the most important issues in the state – road maintenance and repair, ethics issues and school funding.

Déjà vu for SC General Assembly

In November 2014, when everyone was talking about the upcoming SC General Assembly legislative session, three big topics were at the fore, ethics reform, transportation maintenance and repair funding and education funding.

One year later, as preparations are made for the second session of the 121st General Assembly, those three topics are still waiting to be addressed.

Real ethics reform falls into three areas – disclosure of all sources of income for members and their immediate families, disclosure of donor sources in these currently anonymous PACs and an independent process for ethics violation investigations.

Under our current ethics system, the House and Senate have ethics committees that essentially do nothing, and the SC Ethics Commission, which covers all other public officials throughout the state, specializes in collecting fines for late filing of disclosure documents.

All three areas have strong resistance, especially in the Senate, so expect another year where ethics is talked about much and accomplished not at all.

In the area of transportation maintenance and repair or general infrastructure funding, one lesson should have been learned with the floods of October – you can only ignore maintenance and repair of necessary infrastructure for so long.

When old, neglected infrastructure is hit with unusual conditions, it will fail. Some of the flood damage we saw would have happened anyway, but dams failing, bridges collapsing and roads washing out were as much a consequence of neglect as it was from the storm.

School funding, or rather equitable funding for poor, rural school districts is a subject that has been effectively dodged in one way or another since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954.