Aiken County's House members in the General Assembly were hoping to get a “clean” bill that would pave the way to give county voters the option to support a penny sales tax increase for schools in the November general election.
At least for now, the five delegation members encountered a snag during a House Ways and Means subcommittee meeting on Wednesday.
Earlier this year, S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, introduced a bill with one purpose. The Aiken County School Board and others would get the authority to ask voters to accept a one-cent sales tax increase for new school construction.
“The Senate was the one that didn't want this, and they worked it out,” said S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken. “Now it's coming from the House side … and it's touch and go.”
Young had worked out a long series of amendments to the original bill to meet the concerns of individual senators, leading to a successful vote of the full Senate of the full Senate. If the House had pushed that bill through, the measure would have gone straight to the governor. One amendment focused specifically on Kershaw County; The other focused on Anderson County and the multiple school districts within the county.
In the legislative process, lawmakers can add or subtract to bills, said S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken. He wasn't surprised the amendments were added during the meeting on Wednesday. The Aiken delegation “spoke ferociously” in support of the Senate bill as written, Taylor said. He and the other House members plan to meet with S.C. Rep Brian White, R-Anderson, on Thursday. He is the House Ways and Means Committee chairman
“This is not about raising taxes, but about home rule,” Taylor said of the latest development. “It's giving the voters of Aiken County the chance to decide if they wish to invest in new schools. We're very much in favor of that.”
During that meeting, Young was participating in Senate business.
“I expected the House to amend the bill,” he said. “It's part of the legislative process, and we'll just have to see if something can get passed.”
Keith Liner, an Aiken School Board member, attended the meeting on Wednesday. He thought the Senate had cleared up some issues, and now those concerns have returned in the House.
“Some legislators aren't letting it go to the voters,” Liner said. “You would think everyone was in favor of letting citizens vote. I'm proud of our legislators, who are trying to make this work.”
If the House was going to add amendments, it's better to have them introduced at this time, Taylor said.
“Now we know how to help maneuver the course of the bill,” he said. “The worse case would be if amendments come to the House floor with no way to counter them.”
When the House does pass a version of the bill that returns to the House, some senators may object to the latest changes. Ultimately, a conference committee of three House members and three senators may get the chance to explore a compromise bill.
“We have to determine a strategy that will be successful,” Taylor said. “It does make it more difficult, no doubt about that.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.