By Bill Poovey
Legislation prefiled in the state Senate for the 2014 session includes a tax credit for hiring someone who has been incarcerated. Another bill to increase the state gas tax has also been prefiled, but the sponsor says it’s a “motor user fuel fee,” not a tax.
Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said his measure that would increase the state’s 16.75-cents-a-gallon gas tax by 2 cents each year is a fee, because the revenue is dedicated to road and bridge work. His bill would increase the fee until it reaches 36 cents a gallon in 2023.
Cleary said the terminology is important, particularly in an election year, with lawmakers who have pledged to oppose new taxes. Cleary said a government watchdog group has defined specifically obligated revenues as fees.
“If you’re going to be a purist, it’s a fee,” he said.
Cleary said the fee terminology is also important because tax measures can’t originate in the Senate.
“The Senate cannot impose taxes. Taxes have to originate from the House. However, fees I think can be changed,” Cleary said. He said there is precedent for approval of fee legislation that originates in the Senate.
He said he and other supporters of the measure will possibly try to add fees to a House-passed measure that would generate revenue for road and bridge work.
The employer bill prefiled by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, would allow a tax credit up to $500 a month for employing an individual who has previously been incarcerated 90 days or longer and has not since been charged with a crime or held another full-time job. The credit could apply to a lineup of taxes that include income and corporate license taxes. The tax credit would be limited to $50,000 annually and could not exceed the taxpayer’s tax liability. Unused credit could be carried over.
Kimpson said he is “optimistic” that the Senate bill can be approved.
“I guess we’ll find out in January,” he said.
Kimpson said South Carolina taxpayers are spending more than $15,000 a year to house each inmate, and the large numbers returning to prison are due mainly to “the inability to find a job.”
“It’s common-sense legislation,” he said.
“The formerly incarcerated individual doesn’t even get an opportunity to interview,” Kimpson said.
Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, prefiled a bill that would reduce the state’s 7% income tax rate by 1.4% annually until it is eliminated. The measure does not include any proposal to replace the reduction in revenue.
Shealy did not return a telephone message seeking comment.
The three measures — all assigned to the Senate Finance Committee — are added to the lineup of legislation carried over from this year. Bills can also be filed after the Jan. 14 session starts.