Friday’s editorial looks at the merits of a few local but less visible bills moving through the General Assembly these days:
As the legislature swings back into action, the news coming from Columbia follows thick and fast. This week saw the passage in the House of the Higher Education Transparency Act, which would require public colleges to post their spending online. And the state’s budget work and restructuring continues to make headlines.
But beyond the larger items that dominate the news lie a number of smaller items, bills and resolutions that have received little attention and may go nowhere at all. Whether they eventually become law or not, we believe it’s important for citizens to know what their elected representatives are doing with their time, and to that end, we like to keep an eye on some of the less visible movements afoot at the Statehouse:
S 0435 | Republican Sen. Dick Elliot of North Myrtle Beach proposed this bill, which would require any agency or individual that receives or spends state or local tax money to submit periodic expense reports on how the money is spent and make those reports open to FOIA. It almost goes without saying that we are great supporters of this idea. The easiest way to build trust, ethics and accountability into government is to open it up to inspection by the citizens who pay for it. The bill is currently sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, from which we hope it will soon move on.
H 3586 | Following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the state set constraints on how close to the coast structures could be built and limited the number of fishing piers to those that were constructed before Sept. 21, 1989. This bill, introduced Thursday and sponsored by Republican Rep. Nelson Hardwick of Surfside Beach, would remove that limit and allow the construction of any new pier that’s approved by the local government. The bill is currently in the Agriculture Committee, which Hardwick chairs. But with a long list of local co-sponsors, including Alan Clemmons, Liston Barfield, George Hearn, Kevin Ryan, Thad Viers and Tracy Edge, the bill seems likely to move ahead.
While we’re not sure why the topic has come up now, we have no particular objection to more piers in the area, and we’re generally behind laws that put more power back in the hands of local governments, who are in a better position to gauge the needs of their communities.
S 0475 | This bill, proposed by Republican Sen. Luke Rankin of Myrtle Beach, makes a half-hearted attempt to phase out the sales tax cap on cars, currently set at $300. It would still exempt half of the sales price from tax and exempt any local sales taxes. The elimination of this tax exemption was one of the most logical proposals put forth by the recent Tax Realignment Commission, and we’d like to see this tax break stricken altogether.
Given the enormous budget hole that the state faces, this seems a weak proposal designed to have it both ways, dropping some of the exemption to find more revenue, but preserving a good deal of the exceptions to avoid angering constituents. While lawmakers should always think carefully before adding to taxpayers’ burdens, we feel confident that our state’s citizens would rather have operating schools and prisons than cheap cars.
S 0461 | We’ve always supported efforts to improve recycling efforts in our communities. But this bill, sponsored by Sen. Ray Cleary of Murrells Inlet, goes a bit too far for our liking. It would force every owner of a liquor license to recycle every beverage container sold on the premises or be subject to state fines. To pay for these new efforts, a half-percent of local accommodations tax would be redirected.
Our concerns with this proposal are twofold. First, the surest way to inspire resentment is to force people to take an action, even if that action is a good idea. We would be more likely to support a carrot in this instance than a stick. Second, in the current budget situation, we don’t believe this is the time to redirect tax money to new purposes, laudable as recycling may be.
H 3522 | Finally, while not strictly a local topic, we would like to highlight this proposal, made Wednesday by Democratic Rep. Chris Hart of Columbia. It seeks to keep lawmakers on topic this year as the economic situation dominates our state:
“For each legislative day the House of Representatives does not address issues relating to job creation, unemployment, or economic development, the members of the House of Representatives shall forfeit one day of subsistence allowance.”
This year’s allowance for legislators is $136 per day, and while we honestly don’t believe Hart’s bill will make it far in the process, it offers a good reminder to our lawmakers of the topics at the top of our mind. Our legislators could devote their time and energy to countless items this year, but we hope they’ll keep in mind first and foremost the economic plight of so many in our state.