Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Much has occurred since my last column so this will be a catch-all that touches on a variety of topics but will probably be lacking any consistent theme other than the issues that deal with the legislature or politics.
The House of Representatives has been extremely active and has debated a number of controversial bills.
The good news is that since we are now four months into the legislative session the Senate has decided it should begin work as well; so the pace of legislative activity is definitely quickening. (Credit to Rep Bill Taylor and the House Republican Caucus for compiling portions of this list and allowing me to use it.)
Cutting income taxes: The House passed a part of its tax reform package. It's a long way from being reality since it has to go to the Senate, but it's a major step in the process. The legislation cuts individual state income taxes for residents and small business owners. One bill would collapse the state's income tax brackets from six to three, giving all residents who pay taxes a modest break. Another bill reduces income taxes that small businesses pay on their profits. The goal is to create a tax code that is flatter, fairer and more competitive.
Property tax reform: Local realtors and constituents alerted us to a situation that occurs when buying a new home and selling the old one. The moment a family moves into its newly purchased home the property tax on the now vacant house increases from four percent to six percent. The House passed a bill that allows for the now vacant home to remain at the four percent rate for up to a year while it is on the market to be sold.
Tax exemptions: Originally bills were introduced that proposed eliminating more than $220 million worth of exemptions and lowering the overall sales tax rate from its current six percent. The bill that passed eliminated less than $13 million in exemptions. I guess it's a start, but it once again shows the power of special interests. I will try to write a column on tax exemptions over the summer that better explains what they are and to whom they apply.
Freedom of Information Act: The House approved the FOI bill strengthening the state's open records law by a 101-1 vote. The bill bars public agencies, governments and school districts from charging excessive fees for public records and requires them to respond more quickly.
It also removes legislators' exemption from the law. The bill limits charges for paper copies to the market rate - basically whatever office supply stores charge per copy.
There can be no charges for information stored or transmitted electronically. The bill also requires agencies to respond in 15 calendar days rather than 15 working days.
Property taxes appeals: The House sent to the Senate a bill revising the process for property tax appeals. It provides that the appeal must be based on the market value of real property as of Dec. 31 of the tax year under appeal. Among other things, the bill requires that the county assessor shall have the burden of proof in a property tax appeal.
Protecting LLC's: In a recent ruling, the S.C. Supreme Court dealt a blow to S.C.'s Limited Liability Companies by removing their legal shield.
The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation restoring that legal protection for actions taken in the ordinary course of business of an LLC
Port expansion: The governor and DHEC's decision continue to force the General Assembly to correct their mistake. Last week I introduced, and the House passed, a joint resolution that further clarifies the permitting process and which agencies have the ability to issue permits when dealing with joint holdings such as the Savannah River.
School bus decentralization: The legislation I introduced that would provide school districts with a choice between partnering with private firms or running their own bus system was defeated on the House floor by a small margin. Instead, the amended bill establishes a study committee that is expected to research the issue and put forth legislation by next year.
Two final issues ...
Elections: The entire General Assembly is up for election this year and filing for office closed on March 30. I am honored to have represented you for the past few years and I look forward to continuing that work for the foreseeable future. Media: Recently my name was included in a hack job article written about PAC's. The S.C. General Assembly is a part-time job that pays $10,400 a year. My real job, and the one which I have had for more than 20 years, is public relations and marketing. Writing, consulting, direct mail, tv and other journalistic endeavors pay the bills for my family since long before I ran for office. Sadly, the legislative work now occupies far more time than my "real" job - which I assume is the primary reason more people do not file for public office. The article to which I refer insinuated that because a PAC Speaker Bobby Harrell operates used my company to send out its direct mail there was some kind of wrongdoing. The author also cited a gross dollar figure that was paid over multiple years and numerous elections - but did not bother to include the fact that advertising companies often pay the full amount for their client and are reimbursed for printing and mailing costs. (That should probably be known since it is with a newspaper that sells ads for which she works.) Even after speaking with her and answering the reporter's questions, through omission or disregard, she misrepresented the facts in order to write the story she wanted. Using the reporter's logic if I was a barber, lawyer, insurance agent, tow truck operator, doctor, developer, etc. and served in the General Assembly a fellow member could not use my business. That is ridiculous. And so was her story. I write ads and do direct mail and if anyone would like to use my business I appreciate the opportunity. It's no wonder the only group that is more distrusted than politicians is the media. Thank you for reading my short rant and if I can ever do anything to assist you do not hesitate to contact me. I will write another column in the next few weeks that includes additional topics that were excluded from this column. (Rep. Jim Merrill represents citizens from Hanahan, Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, Cainhoy and North Charleston in the South Carolina House of Representatives.)