“Kinda Comprehensive” Tax Reform

After yesterday’s Tax Realignment Commission (TRAC) vote on a first proposal to change our tax code , there seems to be many “worried dads” running around today.

As I told Robert Kittle this afternoon, let’s be patient. This reminds me of those children’s t-shirts that read “Be patient! God’s not finished with me yet”.

Earlier this week, I shared at the St. Andrews Rotary Club that the General Assembly empowered the TRAC to consider Act 388 in their discussions. I was wrong. While the House listened to the voters across the state and wanted to have a comprehensive discussion which included Act. 388; the Senate did not. (Something I found out AFTER my visit with the club and after reading reports that Act.388 was off the table)

How can you call it “comprehensive tax reform” if you’re not reviewing Act 388? Isn’t that like a woman being “kinda pregnant”? She either is or isn’t. Comprehensive either is comprehensive or it isn’t. You can’t go halfway.

My biggest fear is that before we even allow the TRAC to finish their job (the one we asked them to do for us), we may see politics interjected. Perhaps tainting their final proposal before it even gets into our hands to consider next session.

This next budget year isn’t going to be easy for our state; neither will the votes on whatever final proposal the TRAC sends us in November. But let’s all take a deep breath and be patient until the finished product arrives. There’ll be plenty of time to worry after that.

From WSPA.com…

COLUMBIA, S.C. — An initial recommendation to change South Carolina’s sales tax system is being met with hostility by a lot of taxpayers, since the plan would add a 2.5 percent sales tax to groceries, electricity, water bills and prescription drugs.

The Taxation Realignment Commission gave preliminary approval to the plan Wednesday, but TRAC must still give its final approval, send the recommendations to state lawmakers and then they must vote on them.

Besides the 2.5 percent sales tax on those essentials, the plan would start charging sales tax on hearing aids and prosthetic limbs, newspapers and other items that are now exempt. The plan would also phase out the current $300 sales tax cap on cars and trucks, but would not alter it for boats and airplanes.

To offset the new taxes, the state sales tax rate would drop from 6 percent to 4.96 percent.

Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, says he understands taxpayers’ genuine concern about the plan. But he says people need to remember the millions of dollars in budget cuts lawmakers had to make this year, along with a shortfall of more than $1 billion looming next year when federal stimulus money is gone.

“There comes a point when you can’t cut any more. You’re not cutting meat, you’re cutting the bone and we have to seriously look at what the TRAC commission recommended,” he says.

He thinks people who are understandably complaining about the possibility of paying sales taxes on groceries, medicine, water and electricity will feel differently if the state were to have to cut education even more, leaving their child’s class with 60 students instead of 25.

“When we run out of school bus gas and now they have to drive their kids to school, when… we have to start reducing the rolls of those persons on Medicare, then these people will understand that what we’re dealing with is real life,” he says.

Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Irmo, says it’s way too early for people to get too upset about what might happen with the TRAC recommendations. “What I tell them is have a little bit of patience,” he says.

He says lawmakers created TRAC to take the politics out of decisions on tax policy, so lawmakers need to let TRAC members finish their work before getting involved.

As for the chances of the TRAC recommendations passing, he says, “I’ll tell you that we’ve got to pass something. I mean, we’ve got a billion-dollar shortfall staring at us. Now the good news is, as a conservative, the proposal that we tasked them with is to make that revenue-neutral.”

But while he thinks lawmakers will have to pass something, Rep. Sellers says, “It’ll probably pass somewhere around Neveruary.” He doesn’t think Republicans in the House will be willing to pass tax increases, even if they’re offset by a decrease in the sales tax rate.

The State Budget: Deal or No Deal?

I was never really much of a fan of the game show but it did remind me of the upcoming Budget Conference Committee negotiations between the House and Senate this year.

There are a lot of numbers in this year’s budgets , and not many of them make people winners. While there is always plenty in the budget not to like; this year may be the first time since I’ve been in office where it could mean “back to the drawing board” if some “deals” are not struck. Thing is, some of the “deals” might end up hurting our state in the long run.

It will be interesting to see how the conference committee handles a few of the items that I believe may cause a “deal or no deal” vote for our state.

1. Abortion Funding

The House wouldn’t have been able to pass our budget were it not for an extended debate on abortion funding. One which ultimately led to passage that only included state-health plan abortion funding related to protect the life of the mother. With that proviso in place, a group of Upstate members were able to support final passage – even if they had lots of other reasons to vote against the House plan. The House voted 64-52 and it would have been flipped without the “abortion ban” in place. However, the Senate has left their budget abortion proviso to fund instances that include “rape, incest, and life of the mother”. Granted, that was Ronald Reagan’s stance; but if that stays in the budget, look for it to get very, very close to a “No Deal” vote in the House this year…or a flat out “No Deal” at all for that matter.

2. Fees, Fees, Fees and a Tax

Not even the most liberal politician WANTS to raise taxes; especially in an election year. But with revenues down (to put it mildly), what’s a politician to do? Easy. Raise “fees”; those aren’t taxes…are they?

That’s exactly what the Senate has done to the tune of several millions of dollars on the backs of hunters, fishers, and SC drivers.

In addition to RAISING FEES, the Senate version creates a NEW FEE. A fee of $50 per deposition in legal cases. While many can stomach a fee increase, a new fee is another matter.

Don’t forget about the cigarette tax (that is sure to be vetoed by Governor Sanford).

It’s gonna be interesting to see how this all plays out; especially with all the signers of the “no tax” pledge ; many who are up for re-election.

3. Incentives

Much of the focus during the House debate centered on giving money to the Heritage Golf Tournament (if they can’t find a sponsor next year). Something that flew under the radar though was a $15 million incentive package for state airports to lure low-cost carriers. Incentives that appear to have already been earmarked for Greenville-Spartanburg and Charleston. Will this pre-determined giveaway cause Midlands officials to vote against the entire budget? I’m already on record against the Heritage money and the House Budget so don’t count me “in play”. But how many folks may change their support with this latest revelation?

Somehow in Columbia, things always “work out”…vetoes always get overturned…budgets always pass…incumbent Board of Trustees always get re-elected. If I were a betting man, I’d say it’ll happen again and we’ll have a budget…but barring any “deals”, I can assure you we wouldn’t.

Bucket List: 9 years ago today

I really don’t have a “bucket list”; but if I did, sky diving would have been on it.

One spring afternoon in St. George, a few friends of mine decided we’d take the plunge. 2.5 miles up in the air, we jumped. I remember how cold the plane was inside and how quickly the jumper before me dropped out of site. It was really peaceful during freefall because you really have no perspective because the world is so small beneath you. When the parachut pulled, that’s when it hit me.

Would I do it again? With children now, probably not. But I did enjoy it 9 years ago today….just like I enjoyed bungee jumping in Hilton Head about 18 years ago.

A Midlands Meet and Greet: Nikki Haley for Governor

I hope you’ll join me and others in the Midlands for a Meet and Greet with Nikki Haley on Tuesday, March 9th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wild Wing Cafe off Harbison Boulevard (1150 Bower Parkway)!

From the day I learned she would run for Governor, I have supported Nikki and am confident South Carolina will benefit from her vision and leadership for years to come!

Please share this information with your friends and co-workers so they can have a chance to meet Nikki and hear more about her common-sense approach to reigning spending in Columbia and changing the staus-quo that continues to cripple our state. There is no cost to attend.

Nikki continues to gain momentum in across the state and also in national circles as well. For too long South Carolina has made headlines for the wrong things, Nikki is a breath of fresh air and understands what it takes to change the good-ole’ boy system for the better!

From her website:

Nikki Haley, one of the strongest fiscal conservatives in state government, was first elected to represent the 87th District in Lexington County in 2004, when, as a virtual unknown she beat the longest serving state legislator in a Republican primary. In 2008 Representative Haley was sent back to the statehouse with 83 percent of the vote – the highest percentage earned by any lawmaker facing a contested South Carolina election that year.

Her time in Columbia has been marked by conservative leadership and an unwavering commitment to the taxpayers’ bottom line. She has fought wasteful spending at every turn, pushed for smaller, more efficient government, and led the fight for the accountability and transparency that before her arrival was sorely lacking in the Legislature.

For her efforts to cut taxes and slow the growth of government spending, Nikki was named “Friend of the Taxpayer” (2009) by the S.C. Association of Taxpayers and a “Taxpayer Hero” (2005) by Gov. Mark Sanford. She has lifetime “A” ratings from the South Carolina Club for Growth, the Palmetto Family Council, and the National Rifle Association. Nikki has also received the Palmetto Leadership Award from the S.C. Policy Council for her expertise on policy matters and the Strom Thurmond Excellence in Public Service and Government Award from the S.C. Federation of Republican Women for the outstanding constituent service she provides to her district.

Born in Bamberg, S.C., the daughter of Indian immigrants, Nikki’s first job was keeping the books for her family’s clothing store – at the age of 13. She went on to graduate from Clemson University with a B.S. degree in accounting and following her graduation worked as Accounting Supervisor for the Charlotte, N.C. based corporation FCR, Inc. and five of its subsidiaries. Nikki then went back to the family business where she helped oversee its growth into a multi-million dollar operation. Since 2008 she has served as the Assistant Executive Director of the Lexington Medical Foundation.

Nikki and her husband Michael, a full time federal technician with the South Carolina National Guard and an officer in the Army National Guard, attend Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington. She was previously a board member of both the Orangeburg and Lexington County Chambers of Commerce and a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Currently, Nikki sits on the board for Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church, Medmission, and is a proud member of the West Metro Republican Women, Lexington County Republican Party and the NRA.

Nikki and Michael live in Lexington with their two children, Rena, 11, and Nalin, 8.

2010 Session Begins

Dum Spiro Spero


Photo: Artwork, Jim Booth

Is it the dawn of a new era for South Carolina politics?

For the past two days, our state has seen members of the House and Senate vote unanimously for two very important pieces of legislation for our citizens.

Yes, you read that correctly – unanimously.

Republicans and Democrats alike. Representatives and Senators, too. Governor Mark Sanford even gave words of praise for all parties .

It’s days like these that give me, and others, hope that working TOGETHER we can accomplish much more for our people and state than working against each other.

Just like when I walk the grounds of our State House to the chamber , words cannot really express what I feel may be happening in our state. Leaders working in unison to do the heavy-lifting we’ve been asked to do for our people.

Let’s see how these final chapters unfold in the last session of 118th General Assembly. I’d love to see how far we’ve come by June.

While I breathe, I hope.

UPDATED (10:40pm) > here’s a similar view from my friend across the aisle, Representative Anton Gunn

Term Limits: From SC to DC?

I was catching up on news around our state today and noticed US Senator Jim DeMint’s blog and his post about filing a term-limit bill for Congress.

Good job, Senator. I agree.

Nathan’s News readers may recall December of last year when I considered filing a companion bill to SC Senator Ray Cleary’s bill. Based on the feedback I received, and similar beliefs shared that Senator DeMint wrote about today, I filed that bill last January.

DeMint proposes 6 years in US House and 12 years in US Senate.
My proposal is 12 year SC House and 16 years in SC Senate.

Amazingly, my bill has been ignored even though my proposal excludes “time served” prior to January 2009 (did that in HOPES current members would support because their time doesn’t even count yet).

I plan to ask for a hearing when we return in January. Maybe Senator Demint can testify here in his home state?

The argument against term limits of “losing institutional knowledge” or “losing good people” is outweighed, in my opinion, by the belief that there are plenty of talented people in our state willing and capable to serve in office and also the fact that absolute power can corrupt.

Come together

Like most in our state, I was shocked (and disappointed) when listening to the news conference Wednesday afternoon from the State House. I had planned an enjoyable afternoon of golf (first time in months) with a friend. Needless to say, we weren’t that focused on golf but instead on what was ahead for South Carolina.

Sure, we both felt (and continue to feel) for the individuals and families involved, but that is really neither our business nor concern as much as what all this could mean to the rest of the 4 million residents in the Palmetto State.

After all (and sadly), it’s not like this has never happened before in politics.

In recent years we’ve seen that most of America, after the sensationalism has died down from episodes like this, really care more about their wallets and their own lives instead of the actions of politicians, celebrities, and sports personalities.

Just as it was with Brad and Jennifer and “Jon and Kate plus 8” , these stories gain all the attention for awhile but will eventually fade as people begin to go about their daily lives. Mortgage and rent payments, gas prices, doctor visits, car repairs, grocery bills, church, vacations, homework, ball practice.

The question most are starting to ask is what does this all mean to them?

As I shared with our Governor, Jeremiah 29:11 states God’s plan for us is to prosper and not to harm. While we oftentimes can’t see it, it will eventually come to fruition. The Governor has apologized to several folks, most importantly his family. He seems to understand that changes must come and it’s my opinion that the upside to this episode for our state is that our people may ultimately benefit from the political winds of change.

Nathan’s News readers know my feelings about wanting our state leaders to work together . Could this be the time? Could our citizens see the changes they have long wanted ? Better education, more jobs, improved healthcare?

I don’t expect (or wish) the Governor to change his conservative view on these issues or change his goals for our state, but I do expect that from this, we may see less division and more cooperation from both the Executive and Legislative branches.

If not now, when?

(I will be on vacation for the next several days and apologize for my lack of posts as I try to enjoy time away from politics and my paying job at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage)

Your Tweetin' Neighbors

Many of you know by now that I was one of the first SC elected officials to get on the twitter “craze” last year (NathanBallentin) . Since that time I’ve pretty much become addicted with over 2,000 updates already. Sure, many updates may be boring to some and some people could care less about my family life; but I share all facets of my life just the same.

Afterall, most would admit that if I just “tweeted” the political stuff, THAT would be boring!

Anyway….today my recent follower turns out to be our school district and I’m glad to see the district coming on board to Twitter and hope they’ll utilize it as a two-way street of communication. Not just getting out information but hearing from those in our community who wish to pass information along to them as well. Twitter is a form of communication and is best used to not only share; but also learn as well (in 140 characters – or less – message updates).

If you’re wondering who’s on Twitter from our community…well…here’s just a few of the folks you may want to follow and see what’s going on (twitter screen names used):

theotrek , paigecoop , shirley8153 , cstegmaier , sctomkat , TreyWalker , tdkelly , CharlieHarden , lawgal21 , ashleygilfillan , cecarey311 , zacandcheese , willfloyd , InTecNic , jplvsd , mckewn , michelmcninch , wshuler , AshleySHunter , mjboozer , foxben , and, my personal favorite: StateHouseWife

Some have been “tweetin” for awhile. Some do it as often as I do (a few times a day), others only maybe once a day or even once every other week. Some have tried it but didn’t like it. That’s the beauty of it. If you like it and if you find someone interesting enough to follow, do it. If not, don’t follow that person. It’s that simple. In the list above we have folks from all walks of life….teachers, state employees, bloggers, realtors, TV personalities, housewives, businessmen, businesswomen, attorneys, artists, and so on.

The impact of Twitter is global reaching – now, more than ever! In fact, twitter has been used to actually keep the West informed of what’s going on in Iran during their unrest. To those who think Twitter is just another fad….it may well be….but everyone’s using it in all walks of life for various reasons.

Give it a shot and see what you think. Oh, there’s also “prank twitter accounts” so be sure you know what’s really going on before you think it’s someone’s “real site”. Some are obvious but others you may never know: SCLegislator , FakeMarkSanford , GovPerrysHair .

If you want to see all the SC Legislators and Politicos on Twitter, try SCTWEETS.COM.

Governor visits "It Kids" at Dutch Fork High School

Governor Mark Sanford delighted students at Dutch Fork High School on Wednesday by meeting with Kelly Payne’s Current Issues Class (known more recently as the “It Kids” ). Governor Sanford fielded several questions from students and shared his vision for the future of the state.

Mrs. Payne’s class has turned into a “must visit” for elected officials this year as her students are always keeping a watchful eye on the actions at the State House.

Sanford’s visit capped a long list of public figures who visited the class this year. Other speakers included Education Superintendent Jim Rex, Attorney General Henry McMaster, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, House Minority Leader Harry Ott, Representatives Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Anton Gunn, James Smith, Nathan Ballentine and Nikki Haley, SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd, and other state politicos.

“Bringing leaders like these into the classroom has given my students the rare chance to meet and interact with some of the most powerful people in the state,” Payne explained.

“We’ve been looking forward all school year to having the governor visit,” said Payne. “Whether or not you share his stand on all issues, you’ve certainly got to admire the unflinching courage of his convictions. And his comfortable use of facts and logic to explain his stands really impressed my students. It meant so much to them that he took the time from his busy schedule to speak to them.”

Almost 100 students packed the room to hear from the state’s Chief Executive Officer. Rebecca VanMeter and Nathan Bell were the lucky students to greet the Governor at the front office and walked him to Mrs. Payne’s class where he discussed major world civilizations such as the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, the Greeks and creation of democracy, the Ottoman Empire….and their declines. He referenced The Truth About Tytler : democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.

Students were obviously thrilled to have the Governor take time to visit and he made an impression by illustrating how much of the taxpayer’s money goes to the government. True to form, he also used a chart for illustration during his visit; but this time it was one he drew on the board.

Sanford taking time to meet with our state’s future leaders did not get lost on these bright students. Many said they couldn’t believe how approachable he was and how he seemed like a “normal guy” who believes in doing what he feels is right based on principles.

On behalf of Dutch Fork High School, thanks Governor for the visit to our community!