Lawmakers eye tax changes to shore up state's finances

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Monday is the calm before the legislative storm at the State House as lawmakers get ready to return to Columbia for the 2010 legislative session.

This year is bound to be different than in years' past.

With double-digit unemployment and a general fund that has been slashed by 25 percent in the past two years, lawmakers are faced with trying to carve out a plan to help keep the state working.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper says the General Assembly will have to focus first on jobs.

"We have to look at the way we tax business in the state and try to make that more attractive to people who have businesses or want to start a business. And also to those that are already here, that may be looking to expand," said Cooper.

Cooper is one of four powerful lawmakers who've called for new measures to shore up the state's financial system.

Those steps include increasing the size of the general reserve fund and coming up with a new way to downsize when budget cuts become necessary.

Lawmakers are also looking at ways to help agencies maintain services and still spend less.

Sen. Gerald Malloy heads a sentencing reform commission that aims in part to help the state's corrections department maintain operations during tough budget times.

"We are trying to make certain we keep South Carolina safe and use the best base that we end up having in our prison system for violent criminals," said Malloy. "But at the same what we have is we have a state that has been incarcerating about half of its prison population for non-violent offenses."

Cooper isn't expecting much movement on making major changes in the state's tax structure. They could hinge on findings in a report from the Tax Realignment Commission, which won't be out for at least three months.

Speaking of taxes, what about another effort to raise the cigarette tax? It could certainly come up.

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