Missed opportunities abound at State House
The General Assembly returns this week to address the governor's budget vetoes and to take care of a few additional minor issues. Originally it was the intent of the House and Senate to return in September, but since Governor Haley vetoed teacher pay raises and zeroed out some agencies, we are returning ahead of schedule.
While this back and forth over the budget is typical, it does come later in the calendar year than usual. But the disappointing part of the past session is one of opportunity missed - and quite frankly I lay most of that problem at the collective feet of the Senate. Its rules still allow for a single senator to kill legislation regardless of the will of the majority.
Several major pieces of conservative legislation - legislation that most wanted - died in the Senate this year. This is a recurring theme at the end of each session.
Here is much discussed legislation that made it through the House but did not survive in the Senate:
Tax Reform: The Senate killed two of the three major tax reform proposals from the House. The first bill that was killed was the flattening and reduction of personal income taxes - a key effort to make our tax code fairer and the put money back in your pocket. The second bill killed was the elimination of two-dozen special interest sales tax exemptions. A final bill, one that would lower income taxes on small businesses and the self-employed, was killed, but was also placed in the budget and continuing resolution - an action that forced it to be considered.
FOIA Expansion: The Senate killed a bill that would eliminate 'research' charges for public-records requests and would open the state e-mail accounts of lawmakers to the public. The Senate blocked the bill with one senator saying he 'did not know what the bill would do.'
School Choice: School Choice passed the House of Representatives this year. The bill would have given parents a $4,000 tax deduction for private schools, a $2,000 tax deduction for home schooling, and a $1,000 tax deduction for public school choice. The bill also gave businesses and individuals a tax credit for contributing to organizations that provided private school scholarships to low-income or handicapped students.
Angel Investor Act: The Senate killed a bill that would give tax credits to 'Angel Investors.' These are private investors who give critical start-up cash to small technology companies. As the mobile Internet expands both the opportunities and the locations available to these start-ups, this bill is critical to helping small tech companies start here in our state - companies that could become the next Facebook, Amazon.com or Google.
Spending Caps: For the eighth time since 1994, the House approved strict spending caps on the state budget. For the eighth time since 1994, the Senate killed our efforts.
Shortening the Legislative Session: Like the spending caps legislation, the House has tried to shorten the session at least six times since 1994. This year, the Senate blocked a bill that would have only shortened the session by one week.
Taxpayer Fairness Act: This legislation expands and updates our state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights to ensure law-abiding taxpayers are treated with respect and that government agencies enforce tax law in a fair manner.
Regulatory Reform: This legislation requires an automatic vote of the House and the Senate to approve new regulations. Currently agency regulations are automatically approved unless the General Assembly takes specific action.
(Rep. Jim Merrill is the former majority leader of the S.C. House of Representatives and represents District 99, which covers parts of Hanahan, Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, Cainhoy and North Charleston.)