South Carolina Panel Recommends Broader Sales Tax and Lower Rate

September 03, 2010

The South Carolina Taxation Realignment Commission (TRAC) voted yesterday to recommend some significant changes to the Legislature:

  • Eliminate the sales tax exemption for residential electricity, natural gas, and water bills and instead apply a 1.25% rate, after a 75% exemption.
  • Eliminate the sales tax exemption for prescription drugs and instead apply a 1.25% rate, with a maximum payment of $100 per year before an income tax credit kicks in. Prescriptions for Medicare and Medicaid recipients would remain exempt.
  • Eliminate the sales tax exemption for groceries and instead apply a 2.95% rate. Groceries bought with food stamps would be exempt. Before 2007, South Carolina taxed groceries at 3%. Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley has been criticized for her support of eliminating the grocery exemption to eliminate the corporate income tax.
  • Lower the general state sales tax rate from 6% to 5%. (Local sales taxes add a further 1.26% average).
  • Apply the 5% rate to some services: tanning/piercings/tattoos, salons/hair/nail care, weight loss counseling/spas, cleaning/maintenance/repairs, heating/cooling repairs, home appliance repairs, and computer repairs.
  • Two options for the currently 16.9 cent gasoline tax: either a 7 cent rate adjusted every 6 months with the wholesale price, or raising the current tax by 5 cents.
  • They dropped a proposed limit the state's sales tax holiday to just school supplies instead of clothing, shoes, and computers in addition.
  • The committee suggested some options for reducing income tax exemptions and exclusions, urging that the revenue be used for lowering the top income tax rate of 7%.

The proposals are revenue-neutral, except for the gasoline tax option that would adjust with wholesale prices. But they already have some critics. On one hand:

Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, was among a list of witnesses before the state Taxation Realignment Commission.[...] Berkowitz praised some of the proposals but said South Carolina's poor would feel the sting of others. She warned that though the changes would not affect recipients of federal food stamps and Medicaid, which are exempt, they would harm residents struggling just outside the poverty definitions and the state's 650,000 uninsured.

"You can't receive food stamps if you are over 130 percent of the poverty level," she said. "That means about $2,300 for a family of three. I have two teenage boys. I can tell you that's practically our food bill every month."

One the other:

Commissioner Don Weaver, who's also president of the South Carolina Association of Taxpayers, told the other commissioners, "For me to turn around to my members and say, 'We're raising your grocery taxes. We're raising your gas taxes and now we're going to add a new tax on water and electricity that's never been there', I just, I can't look my members in the face and tell them that. I just can't."

More on South Carolina here.

Update: The original post inadvertently linked to a satirical website to discuss opposition to Governor Haley's proposal to reinstate the grocery tax. Those links have been changed.

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