Originally created 06/09/01

Just getting started



The 2001 South Carolina General Assembly officially adjourned Thursday, which means, ironically, lawmakers are now finally going to get down to business.

The governor will call them back in extended session in a few weeks to work on, among other things, completing the $5.4 billion budget, resolving grocery tax policy, approving a spending plan, deciding how lottery proceeds will be spent and, of course, redistricting.

So what did legislators accomplish during the regular session? Well, on the eve of Thursday's adjournment they did pass a lottery bill and mandate car seats for infants. They also debated when to return to Columbia to complete the people's work.

Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said lawmakers just "ran out of time" to finish up their other work, particularly on the budget. Ran out of time? What have they been doing the past six months? Will Palmetto State taxpayers ever insist their elected representatives make more efficient use of their time? Legislative sessions, after all, aren't cheap.

Even the lottery bill almost went unapproved, but at the last minute Gov. Jim Hodges, who had been promising to veto any measure that didn't let him name five of the nine lottery commission officials, gave in and went with the GOP plan that calls for three appointments each by the governor and the two House and Senate leaders.

Apparently the governor got assurances that the Republican-controlled Legislature wouldn't put on the panel members who would try to undermine the lottery. Hodges also got some key restrictions lifted that the anti-lottery House had put in.

Lottery ads on radio, TV, billboards, newspapers, magazines and Web sites will be allowed, as will ticket sales on Sundays and in bars and restaurants. Instant scratch-off tickets and games have a green light, but legislative approval will still be needed before South Carolina can join a multistate lottery such as Powerball.

The lottery is scheduled to be up and running by November and dispensing the proceeds should start soon after the first of the year. The spending plan for those revenues will be decided in the extended session.

Of all the issues still left for House and Senate conferees to resolve, the most contentious will be the sales tax break on groceries. The House wants to lower it from 4 percent to 3 percent. The Senate wants to go in the opposite direction - boosting the grocery tax back up to 5 percent.

The Senate may be right in terms of needing $154 million in revenues - the budget is facing a shortfall - but in terms of fairness the House is correct in wanting to stick to the phase-out schedule.

Grocery taxes - because food is a staple of life - are unfair to everyone, especially poor and low-income people. Lawmakers should look elsewhere than the supermarket to balance the budget.