Wednesday, April 10, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

After two weeks on furlough from the statehouse, it was catch-up time this week. At the request of a great many of you, I have been working diligently on legislation that would allow golf cart usage at night by folks with properly outfitted vehicles. This is an initiative that builds on the golf cart legislation we finally pushed through last year, which expanded the range of carts, which is especially useful to our friends in Sun City and on Daufuskie Island.

The ability to utilize golf carts at night has become important to those who now find themselves depending more and more on these inexpensive, non-polluting vehicles, now that they are not range-bound with the introduction of the new laws. Also, many of our neighbors in Old Town Bluffton like to cruise around in the evening and visit with friends or perhaps go out to dinner. I believe they should have that privilege without being tagged as law-breakers. Needless to say, when I hear it from so many of you, my colleagues in the House hear it from me.

You may remember several months ago, I floated an idea for consideration that involved a repair to one of the most glaring inequities of the much-maligned Act 388. I asked if it was a good idea to add another penny of sales tax, after a local referendum, to replace the current property tax paid by businesses and second home owners, those who are assessed at six percent, for school operations. This would mirror what was done under Act 388 for resident homeowners, assessed at four percent, who do not pay for school operations with property tax, but with a penny of sales tax.

At the time, my email ran strongly in favor of the additional sales tax, primarily because most folks understood this was NOT a new tax, but simply a tax swap, the replacement of an unfair property tax with a sales tax. They also understood that this unfair taxation dealt a serious blow to a large segment of our economy, which is real estate.

Well friends, it’s time to fish or cut bait. The way the matter is being structured, as an opt-in, local voter referendum, we get an opportunity to control our own destiny, to exercise our prerogative under home rule. Do we want to live with the current mess, to endure the inequity, as well as the serious economic downside, or do we swap an unfair tax for an opt-in sales tax that will also be partially underwritten by visitors.

You know that I’m not a fan of gratuitous taxation, but a patently unfair tax is the worst of the worst. In truth, the original Act 388 included a two-penny sales tax in exchange for lifting all local property taxes, from non-residents and businesses as well as resident homeowners. Due to a cynical assumption that since non-residents don’t vote in the county, the final version of Act 388 mandated only a one cent sales tax increase, but created essentially two classes of taxpayers, the four-percenters and the six-percenters, with the latter as an intentionally disadvantaged class. Unfortunately, it was the local economy that was also disadvantaged.

This coming week will see the introduction of the one cent sales tax swap for our disadvantaged property tax class. I need to hear your thoughts on this matter. If the current system is what you want to keep, I need to hear it. If, after two months of consideration, you feel it is wiser to correct this unintended negative consequence of our well meaning but flawed tax reform, with our voluntary swap of another penny in sales tax, I need to hear it.

Of course, there is no guarantee it will pass. If it does pass, and upon further consideration, we as a community decide it’s not a good idea, we can defeat it in the referendum. Regardless, we do have a choice.