The majority sentiment in the state Legislature is for no new taxes — witness the failure to impose an increase in the gas tax, despite the demonstrable need. The unwillingness to provide a gas tax hike is a false frugality, since roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, along with the safety of the motoring public.
The same false economy model is used in the allocation to the Local Government Fund. The Legislature sets it at 4.5 percent of the previous year’s budget, but then fails to deliver on its funding pledge.
Local governments feel the pinch across the state, with the biggest pain sustained by the counties. As Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler said, “When the state does not provide the resources promised to cover its mandated services, local governments and taxpayers are forced to cover the difference.”
The Local Government Fund is used, for example, to offset the expense of public safety services, including police and fire, and of trash collection. The shortfall this year could force tax hikes in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, according to our report on Monday. Of course, elected officials in each of those counties can be expected to limit tax increases to the extent possible.
Legislators started cutting the Local Government Fund in 2008, and have continued to do so since. But the recession is over, and state revenues are showing the improvement.
Except that it’s become a bad habit, there is no longer a reason for lawmakers to continue shortchanging local government.
The General Assembly should address the budget accordingly.