SC political briefs: State could change law on local government funding

February 1, 2013 

After several years of not funding local governments at the level state law requires, S.C. legislators are looking to change the law.

The chairman of a House Ways and Means study panel said Thursday the goal is to come up with a funding method that reflects the economic conditions of the time. Being bound by an arbitrary number makes no sense, said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston.

A 1991 state law mandates local governments receive 4.5 percent of the previous year’s tax collections. The money is distributed based on population, with 83 percent going to counties and 17 percent to cities.

But legislators have not followed that law since 2008, when the “local government fund” reached a high of $280 million. After several years of cuts, it’s back up to $213 million this year, still falling short at 3.7 percent.

The money’s meant to cover costs that counties incur from state mandates. But whether it does, and what even counts as a mandate, have been a matter of debate.

The state’s chief economist, Frank Rainwater, testified Thursday the 4.5 percent came about as a way to consolidate 11 separate funding sources for local governments, including percentages of tax collections on mini liquor bottles, fuel and insurance premiums. At the time the law was written, those 11 sources tallied up to 4.5 percent of general funds, he said.

Rep. Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, who repeatedly fought the measures that suspended the requirement, says the cuts cause increase in local taxes.

House panel advances early voting

A House panel has advanced a bill allowing true early voting in South Carolina.

The bill approved Thursday would create a seven-day window for people to vote before Election Day, but end the hybrid form of early voting now available for a month.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Alan Clemmons, who has long opposed early voting efforts. The Myrtle Beach Republican says the state’s absentee voting option has been twisted to allow early voting anyway. Currently, people can vote in-person absentee if they pick an excuse for why they can’t vote Election Day, such as being at work or on vacation.

Ex-lawmaker indicted on burglary charges

For the second time in less than a year, former state Rep. Thad Viers has been indicted by an Horry County grand jury in a case authorities say comes from the Myrtle Beach Republican’s failed relationship.

Defense attorney Dylan Goff said Thursday that his client faces charges of first-degree burglary and petit larceny. Goff said Viers is innocent.

Authorities say the charges are part of the same case that led to Viers’ arrest in January 2012. According to police, the 34-year-old called, texted, emailed and showed up at his ex-girlfriend’s home months after they broke up and didn’t stop after police contacted him.

After his arrest, Viers quickly abandoned a bid for South Carolina’s new 7th Congressional District. He quit the Legislature a day before his March indictment on stalking and harassment charges, saying he needed to focus on his defense.

The new charges came nearly four years after Viers, first elected to the Legislature in 2002, pleaded no contest to threatening to beat and sexually assault a man dating his estranged wife. He paid a $500 fine for unlawful communication.

The Associated Press

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