Originally created 09/12/99

S.C. tax revamp needed



Not many South Carolina taxpayers have heard of the nine-member Local Government Funding System Steering Committee, but they will soon hear about its work. The panel, which includes state officials and legislators, met for the first time last week. Its Herculean assignment: revamp the state's tax structure.

More specifically, the committee will be looking for fairer and more efficient ways for the state to fund its share of local governments. A similar committee with the same task failed a few years ago, sunk by partisanship and, according to critics, "biting off more than it could chew."

Instead of sticking to state tax changes to help localities, it went off on a tangent, looking at local sales and business taxes. Members of the new committee vow to stay on course and try to avoid the political fights that marred the last study commission.

That will be difficult, but with the GOP in charge of the House and Democrats running the Senate, it's obvious no plan will get by the Legislature next year unless it has bipartisan support.

With the state taking a Band-Aid approach to tax problems -- with no knowledge of what local governments' needs are or how best to raise revenues to meet them -- the need for a tax revamp has been clear for years. Property taxes fund the bulk of local government operations, but fees and grants also will be examined, said Democrat Comptroller General James Lander, the committee chairman.

The committee will hold hearings and get plenty of input from taxpayers, government and school officials and the business community. But most critical will be the work done by analysts from the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the College of Charleston. Their findings could make or break the reforms. They'll prepare reports on local governments' needs and be looking at how other states fund those needs.

Every South Carolina taxpayer should wish the study committee well. If there's a better way for the state to raise revenues and help localities, this panel should find it. Tentative findings are due in November.