Spartanburg County lawmakers pledged to support full funding for local governments at Monday night’s delegation meeting, but they split over how to say it.
Sen. Shane Martin, chairman of the delegation and a subcommittee on local government matters, proposed a resolution decrying cuts to state funding for counties and cities.
State statute requires the legislature to put 4.5 percent of the prior year’s revenue into a fund to be divided among local governments as payment for providing state services. Since fiscal year 2008, legislators have used a proviso to reduce the amount sent to cities and counties.
Martin’s resolution called the cuts “unlawful” and said they amounted to double taxation. He called on legislators to faithfully follow the statutory formula for allocating revenue to local governments, and asked Gov. Nikki Haley to present a plan for refunding the money cut in past years. According to the resolution, nearly $344 million has been cut from local governments since fiscal year 2008, including more than $17 million owed to Spartanburg County.
“I didn’t make these numbers up,” Martin said during the meeting. “Finance staff dug them up for me. They’re right.”
Other members of the delegation didn’t dispute his math, but they did dispute his tone.
Martin’s resolution received a first and a second, but was not voted on. Martin withdrew the resolution and replaced it with a milder version drafted by Rep. Eddie Tallon after several members of the delegation said Martin’s language was too stringent, and the state is unlikely to be able to refund the money cut from local governments.
“Being a former mayor, I understand the impact of not fully funding (the local government) fund,” Rep. Doug Brannon said. “However, in my 53 years of life, I’ve learned you get more with sugar than you do with something else.”
Sen. Harvey Peeler, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said the resolution will only build ill will toward the delegation and would make it harder to negotiate for a funding increase. Peeler said it would be seen as an affront to political leadership. “I know (Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman) as well as anyone else, and this will do more harm than good,” he said.
Tallon’s resolution, which garnered the support of the entire delegation, is much shorter than Martin’s. It deletes references to the amount of money cut by not following the statute and does not call for repayment of money already cut. It also appeals to the chairmen of the House and Senate budgeting committees, and not the governor.
“I don’t think there’s a person up here who doesn’t support what you’re trying to do,” Rep. Rita Allison said to Martin. “But the way this is worded would be very detrimental to this delegation.”
Allison, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, supported Tallon’s version. She said members of the House delegation have said as much as what is in the resolution during the budgeting process before.
“I’d rather not do either one, but Rep. Tallon’s is more palatable,” Peeler said. “You all are going to have to help me explain this to (Leatherman).”
Martin said his and Tallon’s resolution got to the same point, but called his “more detailed.”
“Whether you like your local government or hate your local government, it doesn’t matter,” Martin said. “It’s on the books we are supposed to fund the local governments. And if we aren’t going to fund it, we need to be big boys and girls and tell them we aren’t going to fund you, or we are only going to fund you at X.”
Rep. Harold Mitchell said he supported Martin’s resolution, but said it did not go far enough. Mitchell said he wants to see Act 388 – a property tax reform bill he thinks is at least partially responsible for the financial troubles of local governments – reviewed.