Senators consider state, local spending caps

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COLUMBIA - Lobbyists and taxpayer-interest groups overtook a Senate committee meeting, turning what was intended to be a discussion on a proposed constitutional cap on state spending into a debate on whether to limit local-government spending as well.

Representatives from the South Carolina Policy Council, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and South Carolina Association of Taxpayers all spoke in favor of a statewide cap on local spending.

"We're talking about ... limiting those expenditures to the citizens' ability to pay," said Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville. "That's a reasonable thing to do."

Business representatives particularly were concerned about businesses taking on a larger portion of the tax burden now that last year's property-tax reform aimed at helping homeowners is taking effect.

"Business does not pay taxes. ... They collect the tax. They add it onto their services or merchandise, and the taxpayer ends up paying for it," said Emerson Read, a Charleston-area real estate broker who has led tax-reduction efforts.

Senators, though, raised immediate concerns about a local cap.

Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, for example, is worried that a local cap would stop a small town from growing.

"Growth for them might mean hiring a police officer," he said.

Howard Duvall, the executive director of the South Carolina Municipal Association, argued that local governments need financial flexibility to address their residents' needs.

"Look at state spending habits and let local people in South Carolina, through the elections they have every two years, decide if the spending they have at the local level is out of control," Mr. Duvall said.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell called Mr. Sheheen's concerns "valid."

South Carolina long has had a state spending cap. But, as drafted, the law is virtually meaningless.

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