Wednesday, May 9, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week was “crossover” in the General Assembly. As many of you know, that is the day after which bills passed in one side of the Assembly crossover to the other side only with great difficulty.

It serves to expedite matters that may have languished, especially this year as we are in the second year of our two-year legislative session. All bills not disposed will have to be resubmitted after the second Tuesday of next year.

Consequently, we debated over 75 individual bills in a pretty challenging week. The good news is that we got some important things accomplished. Of the four major initiatives under consideration, we did good work on three. In baseball, I would have been pretty happy with a 750 batting average. In lawmaking, with the stakes as high as they are, not so much.

We did manage to pass meaningful tax reform. We cut the individual income tax for residents and small business owners. We made the tax code somewhat flatter, fairer, and more competitive. What we did was pass bills that were put forth by the GOP Tax Reform Committee, on which I serve. It should be noted that our efforts, laudable as they may be, are not the final word, as these measures have to go to the Senate for final approval, then to the Governor. We, however, have done our part. Another aspect of tax reform is a bill that gives local property tax relief to the homeowner trying to sell a recently vacated home. If you decide to downsize and move to a smaller place, under current law, the new house is your primary residence and is assessed at 4%, while your former residence, now vacant, is assessed at 6%, a 50% tax increase.

Under the new bill passed by the House, your assessment will remain at 4% for one year to give you a better shot at selling without taking a big tax hit. In my view, this is a common sense piece of legislation that helps homeowners as well as the real estate industry in general.

We also closed the huge, galling loopholes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). By a vote of 100-1, we passed a reform that makes it illegal for government agencies, local and state governments, school districts, and yes, even legislators from charging unreasonable fees to provide public records, as well as makes it all happen in a timely fashion. Another common-sense piece of work that has been a long time in the works.

Finally, the sales tax reform passed by the House does not qualify as reform in any true sense of the word. Our proposal was to cut more than $220 million in sales tax exemptions and lower the sales tax from the current 6%. Well, friends, we failed. The bill that eventually passed cuts a paltry $13 million in exemptions and served mainly to highlight the power of the lobbying community. The backbone of many of my colleagues simply dissolved before hearings even began. I rarely display overt displeasure with members of my caucus, but this matter is important, urgent, and a test of principle. We were tested and found lacking.

I want to thank my friend Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) for his help on this week’s content. I was just buried in work, and he helped pull this thing together. Next week, the Golf Cart Bill saga gets strange.