As Senate takes up budget, town hall panel to debate role of special-interest tax breaks

Is South Carolina broke? That’s what the governor and a majority of the state legislature are saying. What if the state isn’t broke, but is leaving billions in revenue out of the budget because of special-interest tax breaks?

That’s the question to be debated at a town hall meeting April 27, 7pm, at the SC State Museum, 301 Gervais St. in Columbia. The forum is free and open to the public.

With the Senate set to begin debate on the budget April 26, it’s important that the public have a say in our funding priorities. The town hall was organized because the Senate is not allowing any opportunity for public comment during its deliberations.

The town hall will debate the argument that the state is broke, and will provide striking details about the $4 billion left out of the budget through special tax breaks.

Dr. Holley Ulbrich, Professor Emerita of Economics at Clemson University, will present the case that there is sufficient revenue to fund a moral budget that reflects our values as a society. “By any measure, our state and local tax system has failed to reflect our shared values of justice, of freedom, of compassion, and of opportunity,” Ulbrich said. “Instead, we have focused on tax cuts and failed to update our antiquated revenue system, standing idly by while our tax base continues to erode.”

Dr. Mike Fanning, who has been working with Chambers of Commerce across the state to promote comprehensive tax reform, will lay out the case to lower taxes and balance the budget. “How can a state claim to be broke?” Fanning asked. “Our legislators choose to collect taxes at twice the rate needed to run government while giving away billions in special interest exemptions.”

Network Director Brett Bursey said, “The Chambers of Commerce and the Progressive Network agree that tax breaks are leaving too much money on the table and that our political leadership refuses to acknowledge that the money exists. When the public understands we’re not broke and forces the politicians to reform the tax code, then we can have a productive fight over how to spend the money.”

The Chambers would use the revenue to reduce state taxes and balance the budget. The Network wants the money to enhance the budget and fund crumbling public services. The legislature and the governor are opposed to raising revenue, and see no alternative to cutting government programs.

After a panel discussion, the public will be invited to ask questions and make comments. This is a 90-minute opportunity for the public to understand that South Carolina is not broke, and that the real debate should be over what to do with the additional revenue.

A 2011 study by the Tax Foundation found that South Carolinians have the lowest state income tax burden in the nation and rank 43rd in combined state and local taxes.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, with 34 “first world” member nations, ranks the United States 33rd in collection of taxes, compared to the country’s wealth. Only Mexico ranked lower.