Headlines from the SC State Capitol:
–Governor Nikki Haley met with House and Senate leaders Wednesday morning as a debate over government restructuring flared up yet again. House Speaker Bobby Harrell has publicly criticized the Senate’s version of the bill, saying it takes one large bureaucratic agency (the Budget & Control Board) and breaks it into 10 smaller, independent agencies– grwoing government. However, senators accuse the House of sitting on the bill for nearly two months. The governor’s spokesman called the meeting “productive,” but would not say anything else.
–A big part of House GOP tax reform legislation advanced to the floor Wednesday, but it will be a heavily scaled-down version compared to the bill that House Republicans unveiled to much fanfare last month. A proposal that would eliminate 22 sales tax exemptions was approved Wednesday by the Ways and Means Committee. However, committee members voted to restore a dozen others that had been on the list. The end result will be $15 million in exemptions, significantly lower than the $250 million first proposed last month.
Meanwhile, two other parts of the House tax reform package sputtered in the same committee Wednesday. Lawmakers delayed a vote on a pair of bills that would have reduced property taxes on rental and manufacturing properties, respectively. Opponents said the bills had no method to offset the estimated $1 billion in tax revenue that local governments would lose.
–The Senate sent back to the House a bill that would renew an income tax credit for drivers who buy a plug-in hybrid. The Senate made some changes to the bill, which passed the House last year. If approved, it would offer a nearly $900 credit for a person who purchases a hybrid. Opponents questioned the need for such a credit with the number of buyers currently in the single digits. It passed on a 27-9 vote.
–A Senate committee sent to the floor a bill by Sen. Wes Hayes (R-Rock Hill) that would require each school district in South Carolina to offer at least one other classroom option to students in traditional schools by 2014. Those alternatives can include magnet programs, single-gender classrooms, or Montessori schools, among others. It would also allow students to attend a school outside their district, but caps the amount of transfer students to 3 percent of the school’s total student body.
–The House Ways and Means Committee also halted a bill that would have turned the state’s school bus fleet over to local districts. Instead, committee members voted to create a committee that would study the issue. South Carolina is the only state to operate its own bus fleet. Supporters of the bill say local districts would do a better job of buying new buses. Opponents say the districts would likely end up paying more in the long-term. Sponsor Rep. Jim Merrill (R-Charleston) was unhappy with the committee’s decision, calling it a “way of dragging and delaying and doing zippo.”
–Senators seemed poised to approve a nearly $9 million increase for the commission that oversees the state’s pension investments. A Senate Finance subcommittee unanimously approved the Retirement System Investment Commission’s request to spend $19 million next fiscal year– up from $10 million this current year. The House budget would have cut the commission’s funding by $500,000. Officials say the extra money will help them hire more staff and upgrade technology to better monitor the state’s investments.