Saturday, March 12, 2011

South Carolina finds rock bottom; lawmakers dig harder

Andy Brack, publisher of the Statehouse Report, announced in the current edition of Free Times that South Carolina has beaten every other state in the union in a key economic indicator: the amount of tax revenue collected by our state.

Four years ago, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, South Carolina collected an average $1,894 per person in tax revenues -- an astoundingly low number when considering that the average includes all of South Carolina's taxpayers who are millionaires. That figure ranked us 44th out of 50.

But last year, we beat that by more than $300, as the state collected an average $1,577 per person and left us holding 50th position, dead last.

Brack explains how difficult it was for South Carolina to earn the distinction.

Over the past five years, state lawmakers have passed tax cuts worth $640 million annually, which has led so far to $1.42 billion in lower state revenues in the same time span. And if you think government has grown massively, it hasn’t. The state’s budget has grown an average of 1.4 percent over the past 15 years — the same rate as population growth, according to state figures.

That was a heavy lift, indeed, and lawmakers deserve full recognition for their work.

Not everyone is crowing over the win, Brack writes. The late Governor Carroll Campbell's chief economist, Harry Miley, is "flabbergasted." Campbell and Miley, longtime residents will recall, did much to move South Carolina's economy into the twentieth century. Miley's tone is far from celebratory: "...dead last on paying for government services? That just doesn’t seem very smart in the long run. You can’t fund your infrastructure. Your infrastructure crumbles.”

Brack finds some lawmakers who aren't happy with the ranking either, finding the average collection per citizen not low enough.

So, with news from the Tax Foundation that we collected less per capita at the state level in 2009 and we have just about the lowest tax burden per capita of anyone, you’d think state lawmakers would be throwing some kind of party.

Nope: They want to lower those awful, high taxes more, as witnessed by legislation introduced by state Rep. Jim Merrill (R-Berkeley) to cut property taxes on “just about anyone who bought property in South Carolina after 2006,” according to a March 3 story in the Post and Courier. His biggest ally: South Carolina realtors. The cost: A cut to cities, counties and schools of another $220 million to $260 million at a time when their budgets are reeling, too.

When rock bottom isn't low enough, how do you get lower? You dynamite the rock and never mind the collateral damage.

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