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For all the bad things we’ve said about S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer – and believe us, we’ve said plenty – we’re forced to admit that he’s been pretty consistent in his rulings while presiding over the State Senate.

Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad …

Where it’s been “good” is when Bauer consistently rules against backdoor tax increases.

You know, like the little bait-and-switch that occurred last Tuesday in the State Senate.

What happened? Well, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) effectively enacted a $1.4 million tax increase on South Carolina boat owners.

According to the Senate Journal, Bauer initially ruled DNR’s money-grabbing provision out of order after a question of “germaneness” was raised by Sen. Mick Mulvaney.

Case closed, right?

Wrong.

Later that day, Mulvaney came back and made a motion to withdraw his point of order – effectively giving DNR the money.

Wait … what?

We looked at the Journal and it’s true.

And while this obviously isn’t a huge pot of cash, let’s get one thing clear – DNR has absolutely no business establishing new fines, fees or taxes on South Carolinians in this economic climate. No state agency does.

Also, State Senators have absolutely no business passing a $1.4 million tax increase – let alone passing one on an anonymous technicality.

Contacted by FITS, Bauer said he had “never seen (Senators) pull this trick.”

“Every single point of order that’s been raised like this I’ve ruled against,” Bauer told FITS. “The whole thing rubbed me the wrong way.”

It rubs us the wrong way, too.

“These are honest, hard-working people we just raised taxes on in one of the worst economies I’ve ever seen,” Bauer added.

DNR’s $1.4 million tax hike is out of order – and we’re not just talking about Senate rules.

State and local governments in South Carolina are getting nearly $8 billion in federal “bureaucratic bailout” money over the next two years … and you’re telling us they somehow still don’t have enough to make ends meet?

You’ve got to be kidding us.

Somebody needs to stop the insanity …

Also, like any tax, fee or fine increase, the General Assembly needs to vote up or down on this B.S. proposal – and do so on the record.

FYI, here’s the breakdown of the proposed DNR tax hike:

37.17. (DNR: Watercraft Title and Registration Fees) The Department of Natural Resources shall be authorized to charge application fees for watercraft certificate of title, watercraft registration, and watercraft registration transfer on a sliding scale based on the length of the watercraft. The below fee schedule is established for Fiscal Year 2009-10 and the fee must accompany each application:
A. Watercraft Certificate of Title
(1) For a watercraft with a length less than sixteen feet…………………. $12.00;
(2) For a watercraft with a length of sixteen feet but less than twenty-six feet..$15.00;
(3) For a watercraft with a length of twenty-six feet or longer………. $18.00;
B. Watercraft Registration
(1) For a watercraft with a length less than sixteen feet…………….. $35.00;
(2) For a watercraft with a length of sixteen feet but less than twenty-six feet.. $45.00;
(3) For a watercraft with a length of twenty-six feet or longer……….. $55.00;
(4) For a permitted marine dealer demonstration number……………….. $30.00;
C. Watercraft Registration Transfer
(1) For a watercraft with a length less than sixteen feet………………… $ 8.00;
(2) For a watercraft with a length of sixteen feet but less than twenty-six feet . $10.00; and
(3) For a watercraft with a length of twenty-six feet or longer………….. $12.00.
The above fees are effective September 1, 2009. To the extent fees collected pursuant to this provision in connection with titling or registering a boat, are attributable to the fee increases prescribed above, revenues from those increases must be allocated as follows: twenty-five percent to department law enforcement activities; seventy percent to department land and water resources programs and the balance for the general operation of the Boat Titling and Registration Program. Unexpended revenue must be retained by the department and carried forward from the prior fiscal year into the current fiscal year and used for the same purpose.

Sheesh. What garbage.

If DNR is this hard up for cash, why doesn’t it just save money by consolidating its operations with the Forestry Commission and the “environmental” component of the Department of Health and Environmental Control?

Oh, that’s right … having one agency overseeing our natural resources would make WAY too much sense …

Aside from the question of government restructuring, though, this is a perfect example of the urgent need that exists for lawmakers to address that $7 billion pot of totally unaccounted for cash that state government blows through each year – a sum which represents a third of our $21 billion budget, according an analysis of state spending done by the S.C. Policy Council.

Seriously, if we can sneak tax increases like this into the “other funds” section of the budget without a public vote, without public knowledge (and without public outrage), there’s no telling what other secret tax hikes these guys are getting away with.

And this from a Senate that claims to have passed “transparency.”

Right.

Boaters across South Carolina should be up in arms over this secret tax hike.

And every South Carolinian should be outraged over how it was sneaked into the budget.

Here’s hoping enough of them get sufficiently pissed so that lawmakers are forced to remove it from the budget.