Last week, this season’s political football took an odd bounce that showed quite clearly that the majority of South Carolina House members could really give a rat’s ass about legitimate property tax reform.
It all started last Wednesday. Debate on the House-sponsored package began normally, then descended into the realm of the absurd, ending in a marathon 10-hour session and a tax package that left the state coffers with an anticipated $117 million revenue shortfall (without plans for additional taxes or spending cuts to cover the deficit).
So much for reasoned and prudent debate, thought The Eye.
The original bill detailed two constitutional amendments covering property value reassessment and how local governments can exercise tax authority.
In not so many words, the plan would remove 85 percent of property taxes from owner-occupied homes and raise the state sales tax from 5 to 7 percent. Also, government spending would be impacted negatively and the sales tax on groceries would be relegated to the dustbin of history. Property would be reassessed only if it is “significantly” improved or sold.
Monies collected by the 2 percent increase in sales tax would be returned to local governments and schools by the state.
In the midst of the debate, some House members were made aware that some 28 counties in South Carolina employed the local option sales tax to provide some measure of property tax relief to their counties’ residents. This method returned more money to these counties for tax relief than the bill’s original form would provide to counties not using the local option sales tax for this purpose.
Confused? It’s hard not to be when watching this debate.
A late-night amendment to the proposal would permit counties that used the local option to apply that added revenue to tax relief on second homes, automobiles, boats, and the like.
Amendment sponsor Rep. Jay Lucas told The State, “It’s tremendously unfair to the county that has gone the extra mile for property tax relief.”
What has constituted “unfair” throughout the history of the Palmetto State has never ceased to confound The Eye.
The Eye wonders if Rep. Lucas is aware that some counties in South Carolina are wealthier than others and can afford to engage the local option sales tax for relief purposes — but then that might be an “unfair” characterization.
House Majority Leader Jim Merrill (R-Chas) told The Post and Courier that he supported the amended legislation: “We felt any change in the tax structure should be revenue-neutral at worst … but this is better because it’s a $100 million tax cut.”
Uh, wouldn’t that make the changes revenue-negative, noted The Eye?
Apparently this sentiment was shared by some House members of both parties and a whole lot of state senators.
Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told The State that his committee would start debate on the House package soon and would likely present a plan on the Senate floor in two weeks.
He was not enthusiastic about the House plan, characterizing it as irresponsible and not doing enough for the state’s public schools, “Until we get it right … that’s just not how we do things. When the Senate Finance Committee gets done with the tax swap, it will not be out of balance.”
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Cooper (R-Anderson) told The State that his committee could probably find spending cuts to cover the $117 million deficit created by the House plan, but he wasn’t going to sweat it because, “I don’t expect the Senate would leave [the package] intact.”
Well, isn’t that encouraging, mused The Eye.
Senate Minority Leader John Land (D-Manning) is a bit more circumspect about the House membership’s intentions with the tax relief package, noting that reelection seems to be a big motivator.
Land commented to the P&C, “I really believe they’re just saying, ‘Let’s get this off our plate. It doesn’t matter what it says as long as it says property tax relief,’ The Senate will handle it.”
The Eye sure hopes somebody does.