Focus, action should watchwords of SC's legislative session

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 11, 2013 

South Carolina's legislative sessions all too often are cluttered with useless and repetitive bills and resolutions.

This year, lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley need to focus on major issues that will have long-lasting repercussions. Not a minute of the session that started this week should be wasted.

On the priorities list should be dealing with the unprecedented security breach at the Department of Revenue and making sure it can't happen there or anywhere else in state government, as well as ethics and disclosure reforms to restore public confidence that officials will be held accountable and important information is available to the public.

Lawmakers also must be ready for decisions from the state Supreme Court that could upend the state's financial world. The court is expected to rule soon on two big issues: education funding and sales tax exemptions.

The education funding decision can't come too soon. The lawsuit challenging how the state pays for education was filed by some of the state's poorest school districts nearly two decades ago. In 1997, the high court overturned a lower court decision that the case had no constitutional basis. It wasn't until 2004 that the lower court judge heard the case and 2005 before he ruled the state had failed to provide a "minimally adequate" education (the constitutional standard) when it came to early education.

The Supreme Court heard the appeal of that decision in 2008 and re-heard it this past September. Two new justices had been seated since the court last heard arguments. The court asked the attorneys to discuss how legislation affecting school funding since 2005 might have affected their arguments.

The sales tax exemption lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the state's 78 sales tax exemptions. Plaintiff Matthew Bodman, a Columbia attorney, claims eliminating all of the sales tax exemptions would add $2.7 billion to the state's budget, which he says could be spent on education.

In both instances, lawmakers could have addressed the issues instead of waiting for the state's high court to act, but they did not. It seems the court has been waiting for lawmakers to do something about education funding, but enough is enough.

The court should rule as soon as possible in the session. Lawmakers must have to time to react appropriately. Neither branch should delay.

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