ANALYSIS: Imposing a Statewide Property Tax

SAME BAD ARGUMENT, DIFFERENT TAX

It is a long held view among many elected officials that the only thing preventing exemplary achievements for students in state run schools is insufficient funding. If funding goes up without any apparent results, it simply means funding has not gone up enough. Recently, individuals of this mindset in South Carolina have pushed a statewide property tax as the proper vehicle for raising the increased funding they claim state schools so desperately need.

Legislation that would accomplish this goal has gained little traction in the last two legislative years, but proponents have not been deterred. Two more bills creating a statewide property tax were filed at the end of the 2015 legislative session and are currently sitting in the House Ways and Means Committee. Since 2015 was the first year of a two year legislative session, these bills are still eligible for consideration next January, and they will likely receive a vigorous push from supporters when session resumes in 2016.

H.4304 and H.4305 would impose statewide property taxes on all taxable property (excluding that already exempted by state law) and personal motor vehicles, respectively. The General Assembly would determine the millage rate (tax rate) for the statewide property tax each year during the budget process. Each of the bills would prohibit political subdivisions (counties, cities, etc.) from imposing property tax on property already subject to property tax at the state level. The revenue raised by the proposed state property tax would be dedicated to K-12 education.

These bills are yet another attempt to equalize K-12 funding levels across all South Carolina school districts, in the belief that this will equalize educational outcomes. While these bills are similar to legislation filed in the past, these new efforts may pick up additional support due to a recent state Supreme Court decision that found the state was failing to meets its obligation to provide a “minimally adequate education” to students.

But as the Policy Council has demonstrated before (and highlighted work with the same findings), simply increasing funding does not guarantee better educational outcomes. A far better policy for improving educational outcomes would be a program of universal school choice, in which educational dollars would follow the child rather than being tied to an institution. A universal school choice program could be implemented in a variety of ways, including vouchers or tax credit scholarships. In contrast to funding increases for the public school system, school choice programs have been shown to improve educational achievement and use fewer public dollars to achieve that goal.

South Carolina educational outcomes can be improved without increasing taxes (which a statewide property tax would no doubt do for many) and without sending more revenue to a bloated state government. A statewide property tax for education would be all pain for no gain.

This analysis and others like it will be featured in the Policy Council’s annual guide, The Best and Worst of the General Assembly

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