Thursday, May 22, 2014
Thanks to the efforts of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation, the Aiken County School District is edging closer to the opportunity to ask county voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase toward facility needs.
The S.C. House Ways and Means Committee approved a legislative bill that would accomplish just that.
However, the House still must vote on the legislation and, potentially, get Senate approval – or a possible conference committee debate.
Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature will be needed to finally enact the legislation.
Currently, the Aiken County Board of Education does not have the authority to ask voters to consider the penny sales tax increase.
The legislation, originally introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, would in large part give the Aiken County Board of Education that capability.
School Board members are anxious to get such an opportunity.
A one-cent sales tax increase could generate about $14 million or more to the School District annually for 10 years, Board members have said.
With those funds, the School District could accelerate the rebuilding of Aiken High School and North Augusta High School in 10 years – an effort Board members and District administrators said is essential.
After the Senate bill was approved, Young was hoping for a “clean” bill from the House.
That would have paved the way for the Senate to formally accept it and move it on to the governor for her signature.
The House Ways and Means Committee has moved forward with some changes – primarily with issues within Anderson County.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, has introduced an amendment to allow the five school districts in the county to seek the penny sales tax increase. An Anderson senator, Kevin Bryant, has opposed that measure, and it was not in the Senate bill.
S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, and S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, said White only wants his amendment as long as he feels he can get it.
“Chairman White has assured us he wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize Aiken by the amendment,” said Clyburn. “That was our argument to him.”
Young expected the House bill to get on the calendar on Tuesday, May 20, and be up for debate the next day.
The Senate should get the measure after Memorial Day, five or six days before the end of the legislative session.
If the Senate cannot agree on the final House version, however, the legislation would go to the conference committee – comprised of three House members and three senators – to work it all out.
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.