Monday, January 14, 2013
Rep. Jenny Horne enters her third term in the SC House of Representatives with no illusions as to challenges ahead.
To that end, comprehensive tax reform and comprehensive education funding reform are two major priority issues for her upcoming term, she said.
In fact, not only are those two issues intertwined, Horne says, they are of extreme importance to our future, and as such should be front and center for the entire legislature.
“To me, it should be the top priority for all of us,” Horne said. “It’s all related to job creation and economic development. The business community and education community are seeing that and are beginning to work hand-in-hand to make positive things happen.”
But a number of changes have to be put into place, and sooner rather than later, she noted.
For one, the state’s corporate property tax rate, now at 10.5 percent, is one of the highest in the nation. In order to continue to attract the major industries such as Boeing, the state is going to have to continue to seek ways to become more business friendly if it expects to be competitive on a global playing field, she said.
Small business is also being taxed at a formidable rate – currently at 6 percent -- and with small businesses making up the majority of South Carolina businesses, something has to be done to ease that burden.
“The six percent property tax rate is choking small business owners,” she said. “Something has to be done and I don’t think we can have a conversation about tax reform without looking at ways to ease some of that burden.”
Another area of tax reform that needs to be addressed is sales tax exemptions, she said. The TRAC committee made a number of recommendations last year to the legislature; however, a number of areas need to be re-examined, she noted.
“That was not just about sales tax exemptions – they made a number of recommendations, some of which probably aren’t doable in their present form,” she said.
Ultimately, Horne says she believes it will be very difficult to discuss and enact comprehensive tax reform without a serious discussion and overhaul of public education funding. Currently, the per pupil allotments vary fairly widely from district to district. Ideally, the state needs to come up with a funding formula that allows for the same per pupil amount across the board.
Horne also points out that this would be for determining the amount of operational funds, not capital funds – an important distinction, she says.
“We would want to make sure each district has adequate resources,” she said. “The difficulty right now, however, is that there would be winners and losers. Some districts actually receive too much money; others not enough. And rural districts may wind up receiving less than urban districts.”
One clear example can be found right here at home, she said. Dorchester District 2 is in the bottom five of school districts for per pupil funding allotment by the state. However, the district scores consistently in the top five percent for student achievement. On the other hand, Fairfield County, which has a much smaller student population and fewer schools, receives one of the highest per pupil allotments in the state because there are two nuclear generating stations located in the county that provide a major funding source for that district – yet the school district does not do nearly as well in student achievement.
“Some might argue that it’s not fair to take away funds from that county generated in that county,” she said. “On the other hand, some might say it’s not fair for that district to keep all that money and not put some of it in other areas of need – particularly when the results from that district are often below average.”
Several conclusions can be taken from this, Horne said. One, while money alone does not guarantee student success, school districts do need adequate funds to ensure they can provide what is needed for their students and their communities.
In turn, communities need to be supportive of their schools. The recent bond referendums passed in the Dorchester 2 and Berkeley School districts reflects that community support.
“We’re all consumers of the school district whether we have children or grandchildren in school or not,” she said. “So these referendums basically mean that we chose to invest in our futures – because that’s really what it is, an investment in our future. Our kids have to be workforce ready. We want them to be able to get out and make a living and prosper and contribute.”
Ultimately, however, student success hinges largely on family support and parental involvement, she notes.
“Student success come from parental engagement more than anything else,” she said. “We as parents have to be involved with our children’s education – there’s just no other way around it.”