"Who's that?" "I dunno. Must be a king." "Why?" "He hasn't got shit all over him."
— from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Ah, the Middle Ages. Those were the days. Life was so much simpler then.
For one thing, everyone knew his place and stayed in it. And it was so easy to tell the kings from everyone else in those old feudal times. The king — and a few of his friends and family — didn't have shit all over them. And everyone else did. That's all you had to know.
Leave it to the South Carolina Republican Party to bring back those good ole days. They have been working at it for years by giving us one of the most regressive tax codes in the nation.
They scored a huge breakthrough when they herded the General Assembly into doing away with taxes on most residential properties in 2007. The legislature eliminated the school operations portion of the property tax and capped reassessment at 15 percent for residential properties that had not changed hands. The lost revenue would be offset by a small increase in the sales tax. And to those who cried that the sales tax is regressive and falls disproportionately on the poor and middle class, the tax reformers threw us a bone, eliminating the tax on most groceries. The average household saved about $218 a year on that little benevolence. Wealthy property owners saved thousands on the property tax overhaul.
From the beginning, critics screamed that it wouldn't work. The marginal sales tax increase could never replace lost property tax.
Today, those Cassandras have been proven right. South Carolina's schools are in desperate straights as teachers are laid off and furloughed, class sizes swell, and extracurricular programs are cut.
Currently, the state Tax Realignment Commission is studying ways to increase revenue without inconveniencing the wealthy. One option they are studying would raise the sales tax on groceries back to their pre-2007 levels or higher. Other options on the table include taxing prescription drugs, water, and electric power, three things that have never been taxed in this state before. Yes, in a state where hundreds of our poorest residents have sought relief in paying their power bills during this scorching season, there are powerful individuals in Columbia who want to raise their power bills with a new tax.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley has demonstrated that she is on board with the TRC's feed-the-rich agenda. She wants to raise the sales tax on groceries and eliminate the corporate income tax.
More taxes on the working class and the middle class — this is the price we may soon pay to protect the feudal prerogatives of this state's ruling class. Think I exaggerate?
The man who led the statewide campaign to abolish property tax in 2007 is a local millionaire named Emerson Read Sr. Though he did not completely succeed in his goal, his friends thought he had come close enough to merit special recognition. In October of that year, the French Society of Charleston met at the Carolina Yacht Club for their 191st anniversary dinner. There, men in white ties and tails and women in evening gowns applauded enthusiastically as Read received the Society's Humanitati Award in recognition of his efforts to "improve the human condition either in his community or the world at large."
"Like a savior, he was there when we needed him," French Society member Jack Simmons told the yacht club crowd. "And by 'we' I mean every single South Carolinian and potentially every United States citizen."
That's right! The ruling class of South Carolina considers that cutting their property taxes was nothing less than a great humanitarian triumph. Furthermore, they think they speak for "every single South Carolinian and ... every United States citizen."
Cloaked in such self-delusion, the plutocrats of this state make no apology for ruling over us with something like divine right. After all, they have been doing it for more than 300 years. Their attitude actually dates back to the age of divine right. Those wealthy bastards think we should be grateful for their wisdom and benefactions.
I have written here before that the people who run this state consider it to be their job to serve wealth and power. It is a medieval concept that came here on the first ships, and we have never gotten over it.
It's downright feudal in its implications for working-class and middle-class people. And it means we're about to get covered with shit again. And again. And again.
See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.