Superintendent Jim Rex calls for new state property tax

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Today, State lawmakers heard from Superintendent Jim Rex about his plan for a new statewide property tax.

South Carolina public school districts already spend more than $11,000 per child but Rex is worried that declining state tax revenues might slow the growth rate in public school spending. The Budget and Control Board reports that public spending has grown by $2.2 billion since 2001, or 40% in the last seven fiscal years.

Rex’s plan begins with the replacement of South Carolina’s existing “Index of Taxpaying Ability,” a formula used by state lawmakers when determining how much state money should be sent to schools. The present formula considers how capable local governments are of collecting taxes based on property values in that county. Then state lawmakers determine what share of funding can be paid by the county and how much the state should help.

Rex’s plan would repeal the recently passed property-tax relief on family homes, rework the calculation of local tax contributions, and ultimately implement a statewide “uniform foundation” property tax millage in 2011. Confusingly, the new tax would be managed and collected by local governments, but established and calculated by state lawmakers.

In addition to the new tax, Rex also called for:

– A re-write and elimination of existing tax incentives and other economic development agreements made by local governments across the state with businesses in their communities.

– Expansion of a small pilot program for low-income children into a statewide means-tested pre-Kindergarten program.

– Additional money for school districts in the form of short and long term grants for designing and implementing spending reforms

“The high cost and radical design of the plan speaks volumes about South Carolina’s public school establishment,” said Randy Page, President of South Carolinians for Responsible Government. “Rather than innovate and expand choices for parents during a fiscal crisis, which would save the state millions of dollars, Jim Rex is once again demanding more money from taxpayers.”

While all the programs contained aspects of increasing state spending, Rex characterized the totality of his plan as a “reform” necessitated by the economic downturn.

Jim Rex is completely out of touch with the day-to-day realities faced by families and businesses in South Carolina,” Page continued. “Offering tuition tax credits to families whose children transfered to independent or home-schools would save taxpayers more than $5,000 per child. If Rex is worried about new revenues this is the type of solution he needs to consider.”

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