Legislation moving on Santee Cooper study, tax cuts, and school choice

April 5, 2018

Ellen Weaver

Former President & CEO

Even as students (and the South Carolina Senate) enjoy spring break and golf nuts get their Masters fix, policy news here in Columbia hasn’t taken the week off!

This week saw noteworthy developments on a couple key issues we’re watching at the Statehouse:

Real results: House votes to establish Santee Cooper study committee
Fresh on the heels of our widely reported-on study about state-owned utility Santee Cooper’s uncertain future, the House voted this week to enact our key recommendation: creation of a special committee to get expert input on a potential sale. With Santee Cooper’s fate resting solely with lawmakers, the importance of this development can’t be overstated.

Many questions – like how much Santee Cooper’s assets are actually worth – remain. What’s not in doubt: the longer lawmakers wait to seek independent, expert answers to these questions, the worse it will be for ratepayers who have already suffered a 15 percent rate hike since 2013, with even bigger hikes looming ahead. This problem won’t fix itself and in fact will only get worse with time. The Senate needs to move this important fact-finding process forward quickly.

Progress report: Tax cuts take shape
This week, the House’s specially appointed Tax Policy Review Committee unanimously filed bipartisan legislation (H.5203) that would dramatically reduce South Carolina’s 7 percent top marginal personal income tax rate to a flat 4.85 percent. Eliminating special exemptions and increasing the amount of standard deductions, this legislation would position South Carolina as one of the best tax climates in the Southeast (as opposed to the worst, which it is currently).

Although legislation of this scope typically won’t move this close to the end of session, this bill put into action years of study and lots of talk and continues to build momentum for change. Fundamental tax reform is the No. 1 thing lawmakers could do to create jobs and increase South Carolina’s economic competitiveness. Candidates should run on this message this year and lawmakers should take up this idea – and ideally pair it up with sales tax reform – as a top priority for 2019.

Next up: Education scholarship accounts (ESAs)
A great education is a ticket to the American dream. But for too many South Carolina children, the odds of attending a good school depend entirely on their ZIP code. Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs, would revolutionize this dynamic. Following the proven example of neighboring states such as Tennessee and North Carolina, eligible Palmetto State parents could use their ESA – a parent-controlled savings account funded with state education dollars – to completely customize their student’s learning experience.

We expect South Carolina’s ESA bill (S.622) to be heard in a Senate subcommittee soon. You can bet we’ll be on hand to support this critical opportunity to give students who need it most a shot at a better, more successful life.

Please take a minute to check out our easy-to-use tool to let your lawmakers know that you support helping more South Carolina students reach their full potential through the power of an ESA.

This week, we were also proud to join our friends at the Catholic Diocese of Charleston and allies from around the country in support of a federal ESA that would benefit the federally connected students of military families … a perfect complement to South Carolina’s proposed ESA legislation.