Holy smokes, it's getting ugly up there in Columbia, "The Mecca of the South," as dueling schools of thought duke it out in the Statehouse chambers.
At issue is what seems to be a fairly simple problem to solve: two pieces of legislation that address property tax reform. One involves a constitutional amendment to allow property reassessment change. The second addresses the mechanics of exactly how an increased sales tax would be made manifest and how this would affect public schools.
Last Wednesday, things started percolating when Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) threatened to put the quietus on property tax legislation unless more funding was directed to poor and rural school districts.
Senate Demos want to combine both the reassessment amendment and school funding formulas while the GOP senators want to separate reassessment reform from the funding changes.
What's interesting is that the minority party (that'd be the Demos) are holding all the cards in the Senate, as the ressessment reform requires an amendment to the state constitution.
And that, ladies and germs, requires a two-thirds majority. Sixteen votes is enough to squash the legislation and the Democrats have 20 vs. the GOP's 26.
Appearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, Hutto said, "This is our only real trump card in this ... That's the strongest position we'll be in as a minority to make sure schools are properly funded in the property tax debate."
The subcommittee took testimony last week and produced a resolution that, if ratified by voters, would let local governments have the option of capping reassessment increases or staying put with the existing protocols.
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) took issue with Hutto's threat, telling The State that the Senate couldn't wait for the sales tax bill because (and is this a doozy of a reason) it would take weeks to be approved by the House and Senate Finance Committees.
So much for reasoned and thought-provoking debate, mused The Eye.
Said Martin, "I'm sorry, that ain't going to happen ...We're going to get a vote."
Geez, what is it with Republicans: Up or down vote! Up or down vote ... SQUA-A-A-CK ... Polly wanna cracker!
The calmer senate president pro tem Glenn McConnell (R-Chas) said that while he thought the issues should be addressed separately, school funding was coming to the Senate floor regardless of whether or not it was part of the sales tax swap.
Across the hall in the House, things are, as usual, a bit livelier.
Last Thursday was especially choice, when the House Majority Leader and the House Minority Leader went toe-to-toe and had to be restrained in the middle of the House Chamber.
Reps. Jim Merrill (R-Chas) and Harry Ott (D-Calhoun) were in the midst of a close-quartered intellectual debate on tax reform when they were separated by their colleagues.
The Democrats are angry because they suspect the GOP leadership of secretly deciding to bring out the constitutional amendment bill separately from actual tax code changes.
No wonder the GOP wanted to exempt their caucuses from SC's open meeting laws, noted The Eye.
The Democrats want the fiscal impact of tax reform discussed before deciding to actually do it.
The GOP in both chambers, it would appear, seems to prefer to put the cart before the horse.
Said Ott, "What's wrong with having open and honest debate on the bill?"
Apparently everything, thought The Eye, because Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington) told The State, "(Democrats) are either for property tax relief or against it."
SQUA-A-A-CK ... Up or down vote ... Up or down vote!!!!