Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Dorchester County legislators said they’ll be working on comprehensive tax reform, education funding reform and ethics reform next year, but the No. 1 issue will be a fix to the convoluted election laws that led to this year’s electoral meltdown.
“We’re going to even the playing field,” between incumbents and challengers, Rep. Chris Murphy said.
The law spells out different filing requirements for incumbents and challengers, which caused a few hundred challengers to be booted off the primary election ballot.
The debacle embarrassed the state, said Sen. Sean Bennett, who was dragged through a months-long court process to determine whether he would be allowed to run as a Republican.
Four members of Dorchester County’s delegation spoke at the Chamber’s annual legislative luncheon, giving members a preview of the legislative year ahead.
Another issue that should get attention is a texting-and-driving bill.
Jack Mitchell, regional director of AT&T, which sponsored the lunch, said AT&T supports texting-and-driving laws.
A much-cited 2009 study by Virginia Tech concluded that texting while driving, in heavy vehicles or trucks, increases the risk of crash 23 times as much as non-distracted driving.
The study recommended banning texting for all drivers and banning all cell phone use for newly licensed drivers.
Rep. Joe Daning said the House passed a texting bill last year.
“It went across the hall -- enough said,” he said. “Sean’s going to fix that,” he joked.
Bennett said the Senate is slow by design. But based on a caucus meeting last week, he believes there’s real interest in changing the Senate’s rules to move legislation more quickly, he said.
But Bennett said his primary interest is business issues.
He talked about the need for comprehensive tax reform as well as improving infrastructure.
There’s no appetite for increasing the gas tax to pay for road needs, he said. Instead, there’s talk of funding infrastructure needs from the general fund.
Rep. Jenny Horne said part of the comprehensive tax reform is reducing the industrial property tax to 6 percent from the current 10.5 percent.
Education funding reform would ensure that funding is based on a weighted pupil unit and that funding follows the child rather than the category.
There are currently 76 funding categories, she said, and the funding formula was designed 30 years ago.
If legislators could agree to an uniform statewide millage, then Dorchester taxpayers would most likely get a break on their property taxes, she said.
Everyone is concerned about property taxes on small business, so a shift in rates would help, she said.
Horne also encouraged the business community to get involved in education funding reform.
A strong education system is an investment in the future workforce, she said.