Originally created 12/01/05

Tax relief tops early bills



COLUMBIA - Long term, state Sen. Greg Ryberg favors eliminating South Carolina's property tax.

But for starters, he's proposing a constitutional amendment allowing homeowners to have their home's value reassessed only when it is being sold, instead of every five years.

"This amendment is really important tax relief that will impact positively every taxpayer in South Carolina," said Mr. Ryberg, R-Aiken.

Whenever a home is reassessed, its value almost always goes up, and property taxes increase as a result, he said.

But in high-growth areas, especially, where demand has property values soaring, longtime homeowners are being taxed out of their homes, Mr. Ryberg said.

Not everyone is convinced property taxes are a problem, at least statewide. And to amend the Constitution, Mr. Ryberg has to successfully sell his case to two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, Gov. Mark Sanford and a majority of voters next November.

Regardless of the result, lawmakers say overhauling the property tax system will be one of the big-ticket issues they address after the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 10.

However, it's not the only issue. Mr. Ryberg's proposal is among 23 bills senators pre- filed this week in preparation for the upcoming session. The House's prefiled bills were released earlier this month.

Combined with ongoing legislation from the last session, the lists give an early indication of what's on legislators' minds: cracking down on price gouging, giving the governor appointment power over the state superintendent of education, tweaking rules on when to fly flags at half-staff.

Rep. Catherine Ceips, R-Beaufort, is sponsoring a bill to issue special license plates as a fundraiser for Hunting Island State Park.

"If you like a natural beach ... no concession stands, no loud music, it's just beautiful," Ms. Ceips said.

She also is working with the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network on a bill to fight human trafficking. The legislation passed the House last session but didn't have time to get through both houses, said Laura Hudson, the victims' network's public policy coordinator.

Rep. Robert "Skipper" Perry, R-Aiken, wants to address tax increment financing districts.

He also hopes to stem the return of video poker machines and get more funding for the mentally handicapped.

"There are people who have been dealt a hand in life that wasn't their own doing," Mr. Perry said.

Still, this session, everyone expects to be talking property tax.

"Home ownership, you know, that's the American dream," Ms. Ceips said.