The Pay Raise Veto

I was really surprised that the SC House actually over-rode Gov. Haley’s veto of the $12,000/year legislative pay raise. Note that it took two votes to do it. We sustained the veto on the first vote, then a few members changed their minds and it was re-voted.

The 54% increase in legislative compensation has two effects.

First, it gives legislators an additional $1,000 per month to cover in-district expenses. This money is reportable as taxable income.

Second, it is included in the formula that determines legislators future retirement benefits. The formula is based on years of service and compensation.

So, the more seniority a legislator has the greater the increase in his retirement benefit.

Think about it. This pay raise really sweetens the ability to get re-elected. It keeps on paying all through retirement.

The SC Senate will take up the veto today. They should sustain it, but since it was their idea in the first place, I doubt that they will.

The 2014 Vetoes – Drumroll, please . . .

Gov. Haley has issued her vetoes on the upcoming budget. For a full list please check here.

As I study the full impact of each – and I like a lot of what I see – a couple deserve immediate comment.

The $12,000/year raise for legislators – A 54% raise? Really? Can you actually form the words and say it out loud? The next time you hit that pothole, ask yourself if the legislature deserves to be paid more. To add insult to injury, this raise also increases retirement pay for us. This idea originated in the Senate. When it came over to the House, I voted against it.

The $150,000 of non-recurring tax revenue to Greenville Children’s Museum – This veto was included in a batch of vetoes that included money for the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, the SC Hall of Fame, the Walhalla Civic Auditorium Historic Preservation, and historic preservation in the town of Eastover.

I am confused as to why the Children’s Museum was included on this list other than the word “museum.” The other vetoes are directed at historic preservation. The Children’s Museum currently is a hand’s on activity center for children. The “exhibits” focus on engineering, music, science, medicine, construction, etc. – not exactly the same type of facility as a civic auditorium.

Finally, much is being made of the Governor not vetoing the Arts Commission. This brings to mind the following quote by William Faulkner from The Paris Review about funding the arts:

No. The writer doesn’t need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He’s too busy writing something. If he isn’t first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn’t got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.

 

Thank you.

Hello all,

Thank you to the citizens of Blue Ridge, Greer and Taylors for allowing me to serve again as your representative at the Statehouse. It is truly an honor to do so. an honor that I do not take lightly. I ask for your continued prayers and support as we begin another two year session this January.

As importantly, I ask for your continued questions, suggestions and concerns. Our state has emerged from the recession with a good economy and dropping unemployment rates. This has caused an increase in tax revenue though we haven’t raised taxes. Now is the time to address the serious problems of tax reform, infrastructure reform and education reform. All of these require that we look at the rising level of taxation, the unfair collection and allocation of tax resources, and the lack of input from taxpayers and parents.

For the Greenville County Republican Party, It is time for a free flow of ideas that can be openly discussed without being politicized from the start. Conservatism used to belong to the realm of the thoughtful person who was interested in viable solutions that liberals refuse to consider. We need to elevate conservatism to that level again.

Best Regards,

Tommy

My Campaign Platform for the June 10, 2014 GOP Primary

It has been a privilege to serve as your Representative to the General Assembly in Columbia since 2009. During this time, I have come to know many fine people in District 18. Though our conversations, I have gained a greater understanding of the effect – both good and bad – that state government has on people and businesses.

I am honored to announce that I will be on the ballot in the June 10th Republican Primary.

As a native of Blue Ridge and a business owner in Greer, I remain committed to representing our common-sense conservative values in Columbia. We need only look around us at the quality of life that we enjoy to know that maintaining and expanding these values remains our number one priority.

I have listed below a summary of my core political beliefs. However, if you want to study my positions more in-depth, please read through this website. In the name of transparency, I have published over 200 articles on this website about my work in Columbia.

Pro – Life As a father of a son with hemophilia, I know that all children are gifts from God regardless of their condition — health, financial or otherwise. I absolutely support protection for the unborn and have actively defended their rights on the House floor.  Furthermore, I understand the emotional and financial challenges faced by those who have children with special needs and the challenges that those parents face during this financial crisis. Pro-abortion supporters are on the wrong side of history. As medical knowledge advances, we are pushing back the effects of Roe v. Wade. During March 2014, I co-sponsored the Fetal Pain Awareness Act which passed the House. Please take a look at my update entitled  Pro-Abortion Fallacies  for detail of that debate. Or better yet see my floor speech on another pro-life bill from years past.

Gun Rights I fully support the Second Amendment and the rights of gun owners to protect their families and property.  As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I consistently voted to protect our hunting and fishing rights. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, I pointed out that it was the evil acts by humans and not guns that should be blamed for that horrible event. I even published an opinion piece in The Greenville Journal entitled Slouching Toward Depravity where I concluded that  ”. . . weak-willed pundits and politicians will try to take away our guns or anything else that will grab them a headline, while we watch our children devoured by an increasingly depraved society.”

Tax Reform – As chairman of the House Republican Caucus Tax Reform Committee, I have spent the last two Sessions attempting to simplify and broaden parts of the state tax code. I sponsored seven separate bills that reformed business taxes, personal income taxes, sales taxes, fuel taxes and property taxes. Three of the bills were passed by the House and one became law. I will continue the work on tax reform in the coming session. For the latest detailed explanation of my tax reform efforts please look at my articles entitled Flat Income Tax and Tax Reform Details.

EducationAs a former trustee of Coastal Carolina University, a member of the House Education Committee and a member of the teacher incentive pay study committee, I have an in-depth understanding of what our children need to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. I remain committed to reforming our public education system to make sure tax dollars are spent in the classroom; that good teachers are rewarded; and that classroom discipline is enforced. Most importantly, I believe that each child is uniquely created by God and that parents should have the last word for their children’s education. Many people are rightly upset about the effects of the Common Core on our standards. I have spent the last year researching Common Core and have signed onto bills to repeal it and to make sure that the Legislature approves any new standards considered by the Department of Education. For more detail on my research please read my article entitled Common Core Reports.

Ethics and Campaign Reform - Good government demands that the actions of elected officials are transparent – including their campaign finances. It should be noted that my campaign account reports can be viewed at the South Carolina Ethics Commission website. Additionally, the ethics requirements for incumbents should be the same as those for challengers. The primary election debacle from 2 years ago revealed major flaws in our ethics and campaign laws. I support our current ethics bill that was passed by the House and is under review by the Senate.

Economic Growth – In my work, I have the opportunity to talk with many small business owners about the challenges that they face. I share with them their frustration at government regulations that are designed to prevent them from doing what they do best – growing the economy and creating jobs. When I was first elected, I was on the Agriculture and Environmental Affairs Committee. During my time there, I served on the regulations sub-committee where I had the opportunity to fight over-regulation at the source – when they come up for initial approval. I fully support Gov. Haley’s current efforts to control the growth and reduce the number of regulations so that our economy can have room to grow. I also believe that our poorly maintained road systems has a negative impact on our future economic development. I have spent a considerable amount of time researching possible ways to increase funding for our roads. For a more detailed list of articles please refer to Tax Reform and Gas Tax Articles.

Immigration The federal government has failed to protect our borders against illegal immigration.  We all realize that illegal immigration has become a serious local problem.  I believe that current laws should be enforced so that illegal aliens and other criminal elements do not want to come here.  During my first legislative session, I helped sponsor H4919 – The Illegal Alien Enforcement Act which was modeled on the recent legislation passed in Arizona.

Restructuring When I first ran for office, I emphasized the need to reduce the size of state government through efficient reform. After years of trying, we finally passed a Department of Administration bill this year. This bill moves the vast majority of the administrative functions of state government – human resources, information technology, state vehicles, and “general services” – under the control of the Governor for the first time. The bill also effectively eliminates the old Budget and Control Board – a quasi-legislative/executive agency that controlled much of state government.

Marriage & Family – I believe that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. Furthermore, I believe that the traditional family structure remains the best foundation that society can be built upon and that it must be protected.

If you support my common-sense conservative agenda, I ask for your support on June 10th.

Saving Taxpayers $1.2 Billion

Having lived my entire 47-years in Blue Ridge, I have seen Greenville County, and indeed South Carolina, go through a lot of changes: some good, some bad.

A few years ago I decided to run for State House of Representatives. As a husband, father, and business owner, it was not an easy thing to commit the time to, but my concern was that South Carolina’s economy was being hurt from an antiquated set of laws.

Particularly outdated was South Carolina’s tax structure, which is riddled with arcane restrictions, unnecessary regulations, and special exemptions that punish taxpayers while benefiting special categories of businesses.

As an accountant, and having served on the Board of Trustees for Coastal Carolina University, it seemed plain to me that our state’s economy would continue to struggle as long as we refused to confront the rat’s nest our tax system has become over the last century.

My goal in seeking election to the House was to bring common-sense conservative reforms to Columbia. I have lived up to my promise to the voters by bringing these issues to the forefront.

As a Representative, I have personally introduced more than seven significant pieces of legislation aimed at overhauling the tax code and reducing the tax burden on families and employers. Many of these bills were created when I chaired a special Republican Caucus Committee to formulate tax policy. I have more details about each of these bills on my web site (www.TommyStringer.com) but let me give you a synopsis of the most important ones.

Reduce Income Tax on Small Business (H4996) – By lowering the pass-through income tax rate on small business owners 2%, this bill benefits a category of companies that are our largest employer by saving them nearly $65,000,000 a year. I am pleased to say that this bill actually became law.

Lower Manufacturing Property Taxes (H4993) – South Carolina has the 4th highest business property taxes in the country. By lowering the property tax rates on manufacturing property to equal commercial property rates, we would have saved employers nearly $250,000,000. After debate in sub-committee, the bill was killed.

Eliminate Sales Tax Exemptions (H4995) – If you have a good lobbyist you can get a special sales tax exemption for your product. This bill would have eliminated over 60 sales tax exemptions that benefited special interests and included a corresponding sales tax rate reduction. Remember, every sales tax exemption shifts the burden to other items that are taxed – and to a narrower group of taxpayers. The bill passed the House only after 40 of the exemptions were restored. It died in the Senate.

Flatter Income Tax (H4997) – In an effort to get us closer to a flat tax, this proposal collapsed the five existing income tax brackets down to just two. The savings to taxpayers would have exceeded $78,000,000. After passing the House it died in the Senate.

Lower Commercial Property Taxes (H4998) – This bill would have made South Carolina more competitive by lowering the property tax assessment ratio on commercial property by 1%. Only three states in the whole country have a higher business property tax. Tax savings were predicted to be approximately $827,000,000. The bill died in sub-committee.

Flatter Income Tax II (H4511) – A second attempt at income tax relief was to eliminate all income tax brackets and replace it with just one 3.5% rate. This was a true flat tax bill and eliminated all exemptions and deductions. It allowed one credit for low-income workers. The savings to taxpayers would have been roughly $150,000,000. It was never even debated in sub-committee.

Road Repair Funding Reform (H3645) – Easily the most controversial legislation I’ve been involved with, this bill proposed increasing the retail tax on motor fuels by $0.05 per gallon while indexing the cost to inflation. Since we can’t control inflation, the proposal placed caps which limit the amount of increase possible. The cost to road users would have been $175,000,000. After debate in sub-committee, the bill was tabled. Instead the General Assembly borrowed, via a bond bill, a half-billion dollars.

The poor condition of our roads and bridges remains the most common complaint I hear from citizens. The Department of Transportation projects that $29 billion is needed just to bring our existing roads and bridges up to standard.

After studying this issue carefully, I can see only three options: increase the gas tax, take the money out of the general fund, or borrow money. All of these options have problems.

The worst option is borrowing money. Debt service alone on the bonded indebtedness will cost us millions and just passes the costs to our children. Government debt never makes sense.

Taking the money from the General Fund has a perverse effect on our economy. Over half of the money in the General Fund comes from income taxes of people who work for a living. But the roads are used by everybody, whether you’re a CEO, on welfare, a tourist, or even an illegal alien.

My conservative philosophy will simply not allow me to “charge” South Carolina workers for a service that is used significantly by non-workers.

The current method of paying for roads is a user-fee-based system. By imposing a fair tax on people and businesses who buy gasoline we can be more or less certain that the people who are using the roads most are paying their fair share.

As promised to my constituents, my bills offered real reform and much needed tax relief. The combined tax impact of all of the bills would save taxpayers $1.2 billion. This savings only happens if the bills are passed by the entire General Assembly.

As a conservative, I believe our tax code needs a complete overhaul — rates need to be lowered, exemptions eliminated and the tax base broadened. If I win the Republican nomination on June 10th, I will continue my efforts to push reforms that protect the taxpayers of District 18.

 

Tommy Stringer