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S.C. Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman – the Palmetto state’s “Godfather of Pork” – sounded the tax hike trumpet during a publicly-funded trip to Arizona this week.

While attending the National Conference of State Legislatures fall forum in Phoenix (on your dime), Leatherman declared that disproportionately poor and out-of-work South Carolinians would be beating down his door demanding that lawmakers raise their taxes once they realized how hopeless life is without the warm embrace of big government.

From the Associated Press:

A South Carolina legislator said the public’s patience with budget cuts will wear thin and could even turn in a surprising direction.

If continued cuts pack classrooms with students and block admissions to nursing homes, “I’m predicting … that the public will be lined up to my door demanding that we raise taxes,” said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman.

Amazing, isn’t it? We used to joke about the diminutive, fiscally liberal Leatherman climbing a ladder to gently stroke a mini-bust of Lenin on his desk … but that was back when he was pushing tax hikes in a good economy.

Now we don’t know what to say …

Seriously … not even Barack Obama and his socialist hordes in Washington, D.C. are proposing tax hikes. In fact, Obama recently agreed to an extension of tax cuts.

More to the point, as we’ve noted on numerous previous occasions, South Carolina isn’t facing real budget cuts … it is facing a “reduction in excess.” Remember, the state’s current budget is its largest ever – part of a sustained government growth trend that has seen the state’s bureaucracy expand not only during the post 9/11 downturn but also during the prolonged recession.

Also, it’s worth noting that government in the Palmetto state has always been disproportionately large. In 2005, a study found that more than 40 percent of the state’s gross domestic product was government spending … the tenth-highest figure in America.

We’d hate to see that percentage today …

Worse still, whenever revenues decline lawmakers rush to protect their pork barrel spending (and favored bureaucrats) while “front-lining” budget cuts to what most people would define as “core” functions of government. Just look at the first substantive proposal offered to deal with the coming year’s “shortfall” – cutting the school year by ten days.

Astonishing – and this in a state where less than half of the record amount of education funding makes it to the classroom to begin with!

Leatherman’s “tax hike trumpet” could end up being a good thing, though.

How? Well, first of all, it will expose this “front-lining” strategy for the sham that it is. Seriously … if you think people are pissed about “core services” being cut, imagine how mad they’ll be when they learn the cuts came because a bunch of Columbia politician didn’t want to give up their pet project – or fire their relatives from cozy bureaucratic positions.

Second, and most importantly, it will draw a line in the sand in the S.C. State Senate – a demarcation line between true Republicans (who know that raising taxes is the last thing we should do in this state – especially in this climate) and the RINO horde that has dominated the S.C. General Assembly for decades.

Specifically, a tax hike will force liberal Republicans like Tom Alexander, Paul Campbell, Ronnie Cromer, Mike Fair, Wes Hayes, Jakie Knotts, Larry Martin, Billy O’Dell, Luke Rankin and David Thomas to fall on their swords for Leatherman. Literally.

It will also force the handful of fence-sitters in the Senate – Chip Campsen, Ray Cleary, John Courson and Shane Martin, to name a few – to make a decision. Either these lukewarm “conservatives” will continue to follow their RINO leaders – Leatherman, Senate President Glenn McConnell and GOP Leader Harvey Peeler – or they will break off and join the handful of true fiscal conservatives in the Senate.

Led by Tom Davis, this group also features Lee Bright, Kevin Bryant, Larry Grooms, Phil Shoopman, Mike Rose, Greg Ryberg and Danny Verdin.