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By FITSNews || We’ve got to hand it to S.C. Senate President Glenn McConnell …

In a state where the average politician is 100 percent full of sh*t, he’s pushing the envelope well past the known bounds of B.S.

An expert at manipulating the procedural rules of the S.C. Senate to grow government at obscene levels (while hypocritically spouting fiscal conservative rhetoric every step of the way), McConnell’s latest “masterpiece of misdirection” involves the Senate’s proposed 50-cent per-pack tax hike on cigarettes.

Wait … that tax increase passed two weeks ago, didn’t it?  This is old news, right?

Wrong …

This week, the S.C. Senate brought this ill-conceived idea back up for debate.

Why?

Let’s see … were state lawmakers finally going to include a corresponding income tax cut (or some other tax cut) to make this bill revenue neutral?  No.

Were they finally going to adopt long-overdue structural reforms to our state’s inefficient, ineffective and duplicative health care delivery system?  Yeah right.

Were they finally going to take steps to reform our state’s eligibility system?  Or eliminate the rampant fraud and abuse that plague the current system?  Of course not …

The cigarette tax hike – the revenue from which will be completely absorbed by Medicaid premium increases within the next few years – was brought back up for debate because S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford has threatened to veto the legislation, and McConnell and Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman were lacking the votes needed to override his veto.

Not anymore, though.

As of Wednesday, McConnell and Leatherman have found the votes they need to override a Sanford veto.

How?

Easy … they “removed” two controversial pieces of pork barrel spending which had been added to this legislation – an annual $3 million appropriation to Sen. Hugh Leatherman’s home district (which will be spent however Leatherman chooses) and an annual $1 million appropriation to the Department of Agriculture to fund an expensive agricultural marketing campaign run by one of the state’s most liberal PR firms.

Again, these are recurring expenses – not one-time expenses – which means taxpayers are on the hook for the same amounts in future budgets.

With these pork projects attached, though, it became clear that the bill would have never survived a Sanford veto.  In fact, as recently as last weekend McConnell himself said publicly that he would “never” vote for a cigarette tax hike that included funding for such obvious pork.

(Never mind the fact that he apparently has no problem raising a tax with no corresponding cut and no accompanying reform …)

But was the pork McConnell said he would “never” vote for actually removed?

Of course not.

In fact, not only is the money still being spent on the same wasteful projects, but lawmakers didn’t even bother to strip them out of the legislation – choosing instead to simply move their funding from the “Medicaid Trust Fund” to the “Tobacco Trust Fund.”

That’s right … the money for Leatherman’s boondoggle and the PR firm bailout is still in the bill, it still comes from the cigarette tax hike – and shifting it from Medicaid expenses will still cost the state $12 million in matching federal funds.

So what changed, exactly?

You tell us …

In fact, FITS asked McConnell’s Chief of Staff, John Hazzard, exactly how shifting the money around within the bill in any way altered the legislation?  Not surprisingly, we received no response …

And yet amazingly – as a result of this phantom “removal” of pork barrel spending – McConnell flip-flopped and decided to vote for the 50-cent-per-pack tax hike along with thirteen other “Republican” Senators.

You can access the official tally here, but below are the names of the fourteen “Republican” Senators who supported the “amended” tax hike:

Thomas Alexander
Paul Campbell
Ray Cleary
Ronnie Cromer
Mike Fair
Wes Hayes
Jakie Knotts
Hugh Leatherman
Larry Martin
Shane Massey
Glenn McConnell
Billy O’Dell
Luke Rankin
Mike Rose

Of these fourteen, four Senators – Knotts, Massey, McConnell and Rose – flip-flopped from their initial cigarette tax vote two weeks ago.

Now, here are the eleven Senators who stood their ground and voted against the bill both times …

Lee Bright
Kevin Bryant
John Courson
Tom Davis
Larry Grooms
Shane Martin
Mick Mulvaney
Harvey Peeler
Greg Ryberg
Phil Shoopman
Danny Verdin

Props to these guys, obviously …

Here are a few thoughts, people …

First, and most importantly, in this economic climate government needs to be looking for ways to lower its total tax burden – not just swap one tax for another.

Second, any increase in the cigarette tax hike has to be accompanied by long-overdue reform to the way we approach, fund and deliver health care in South Carolina, otherwise we’re just burning money on duplicated services and annual premium increases.

Third, this state has a history of squandering cigarette-related revenue.  Just look at the way state leaders (led by Leatherman) mismanaged our cigarette settlement money.  Once again, our lawmakers are playing games with our money.

Fourth, if this law passes, cigarette taxes in North Carolina (45 cents) and Georgia (37 cents) would be substantially lower than the new 57-cent state tax that Senators are proposing.  That’s going to have a devastating impact on South Carolina border counties, which is why we’re particularly discouraged that Sen. Shane Massey flip-flopped on his vote.

Finally, the way that the Senate went about gaining its “veto-proof majority” highlights everything that’s wrong with the way state government conducts its business.  It’s a classic example of lawmakers flat out lying to their constituents, which is one reason why South Carolina – the most “Republican” state in the nation – has such a disproportionately large government sector.

Oh … on a personal note, we’d like to thank S.C. Senate “Majority” Leader Harvey Peeler for sticking with the fiscal conservatives on this vote.

We’d like to express our disappointment in Senators Massey and Rose – who are usually reliable fiscal conservatives – for flip-flopping on this legislation.

UPDATE: Yes … as this picture suggests, our “Republican In Name Only” Senators like to dress up as Confederate Generals in their ample free time.  In addition to McConnell in the foreground, that’s S.C. Senator David Thomas (RINO – Greenville) in the background.

UPDATE II: Shame on Yvonne Wenger of the Charleston Post and Courier for going along with this scam and printing McConnell’s fiction that the Senate “stripped out” these pork items.  We often accuse the MSM of misleading people, but in this case Wenger and the Post and Courier are flat out lying.

UPDATE III: For those of you who are interested in seeing how your House member voted on a separate 30-cent-per-pack cigarette tax hike, click here.

WEB EXTRA
Final Cigarette Tax Vote