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Last Week's Columbia Report ·
State Rep. Bobby Harrell (R-Chas.) scored his first big victory as Speaker last week when the S.C. House of Representatives approved a bill that would erase the majority of property taxes from home-owners' yearly bills in favor of a 2-percent increase in the state's sales tax. The House bill would also freeze current property values, allowing them to be reassessed only when they were sold or improved. Harrell had been working for the measure in front of and behind closed doors, and his political clout would have been tested had the bill died on the floor. Harrell said last week from his West Ashley office that he didn't think of the bill's passing as a personal political victory, "but we did pass a significant piece of legislation after a tough debate that went to 10:30 p.m. last Wednesday night." State Senators, who originally wanted the House to include a referendum on the plan, weren't completely pleased. But Harrell doesn't think the Senate will block property tax reform this year over the referendum, which is needed for any change to the state's constitution. "I think we will negotiate a compromise before the year's out," he said, referring to the end of the legislative session, which is scheduled for June. Gov. Mark Sanford seems to have scored a partial victory, with both halves of the Statehouse working together toward his plan to create a statewide charter school district. The plan, which the governor decided to champion this year instead of the politically unpopular school vouchers and tax credits, would stop local school districts from being able to approve or disapprove of a new charter school, and place that power with a board in Columbia, potentially making it easier for them to pop up all around the state. —Bill Davis

Directing the Herd ·
Could you imagine a worse scenario than an annual event that packs the peninsula for a full three-day weekend with out-of-towners and their SUVs while ongoing Streetscape and storm water projects clog one of the city's main downtown thoroughfares, like King Street? Wow, that could really suck. And that is exactly what may happen this weekend during the 24th annual Southeastern Wildlife Expo. According to Sharon Brennan, director of the City's Department of Economic Development, the contractors in charge of Streetscape projects "will be working north of Spring Street and all other sites will be cleaned and monitored. For safety reasons, the placement of barricades in the various construction areas is being evaluated." Sounds like the peninsula is going to be a gawd-awful mess this weekend. Steer clear. —BD

Trouble in Paradise ·
Looks like Dist. 1 City Councilman Henry Fishburne doesn't like how the campaign against defeated former City Councilman Robert George was run. Disgusted by what he saw as outside forces — namely the "Riley political machine" — effecting the outcome, Fishburne has drafted and released a three-page letter that outlines a 10-step process that would, he claims, level the campaign battlefield between those interested in running for public office and candidates backed by the mayor. What especially bothered Fishburne, who admitted last week to not having broached his plan with the mayor, was the letter former state Rep. Henry Fielding signed and sent to voters in George's district in the final days of a second run-off between George and the eventual winner, the Riley-backed Kathleen Wilson. The letter claimed that the curmudgeonly George was a "selfish insensitive racist" for having opposed the half-cent sales tax, which would in turn fund CARTA. "I don't even think Fielding thinks Bob's a racist; I know I don't; how do you think that makes him or his wife feel?" says Fishburne. It should be noted that Fishburne's wife, Lurline, was appointed to a vacated seat on the CCSD School Board seemingly as political payback to Fishburne for dropping out of the state Senate race against Chip Campsen, a Sanford family friend. Fishburne says his plan is not an attack on Riley or Wilson, but rather on the "structure" of current municipal elections. Despite several days of phone calls, it appears the mayor was too busy to return calls for comment. —BD

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