State Lawmaker Claims He Wouldn’t Benefit From Proposed Tax Break for Constables

May 16, 2013

Investigative Reports

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State Constable PatchA legislator who also is a volunteer state constable has co-sponsored a bill that would allow volunteer constables to claim a maximum state income-tax deduction of $3,000 a year.

But Rep. Bill Hixon, R-Aiken and one of five co-sponsors of H. 3089, which received unanimous approval Wednesday by a House Ways and Means subcommittee, says he wouldn’t benefit from the deduction if it becomes law because he already receives the tax break as a volunteer firefighter.

Those who currently can claim the deduction include volunteer firefighters, rescue squad members, volunteer members of a Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) Response Team, reserve police officers, Department of Natural Resources deputy enforcement officers, and members of the State Guard. Under H. 3089, volunteer constables would be added to that group.

Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York and the bill’s main sponsor, told the Sales and Income Tax Subcommittee on Wednesday that according to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), volunteer constables collectively logged 230,000 hours of service last year.

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York and a subcommittee member, said the tax deduction is a good return for taxpayers, noting, “I think it was an oversight before that they (constables) weren’t included.”

A revenue-impact statement prepared by the state Board of Economic Advisors estimates that the deduction would cost the state’s general fund $178,176 for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The cost estimate was based on 1,024 volunteer constables statewide claiming the maximum $3,000 deduction, and an average tax rate of 5.8 percent.

Contacted by The Nerve before Wednesday’s meeting, Hixon said although he is a volunteer state constable, he didn’t see any conflict of interest in co-sponsoring the bill.

“In no way, shape or form am I doing this for me,” he said.

About four hours later, Hixon addressed the subcommittee and reiterated his statements.

“I just want to clarify something. It has come to my attention after speaking with someone that it was self-serving to have my name on this bill,” Hixon, who is not a member of the panel, said to his colleagues.

“I will admit I am a constable, and I am not trying to get this tax credit for me because I already get it,” he continued. “I am a volunteer fireman and have been one since 1977. So, I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for the several hundred constables living in our state.”

In his earlier comments to The Nerve, Hixon said the tax deduction he claims as a volunteer firefighter amounts to about $100 on his state income-tax return. State law says eligible taxpayers “may receive only one deduction pursuant to this item.”

One month ago, the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, launched “Project Conflict Watch,” an effort to have lawmakers and other public officials voluntarily reveal their private sources of income so the public can better determine whether they have any potential conflicts of interest. South Carolina is the only state that requires public officials to report just their government sources of income, according to the governor-appointed S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform.

Hixon has not responded to Project Conflict Watch, but his legislative biography on the General Assembly’s website lists him as a state constable and volunteer firefighter, as well as the president of separate real estate and insurance companies.

Constables, who are appointed by the governor, can carry revolvers and pistols of certain calibers and 12-gauge shotguns as long as they have approved firearms training certified by SLED. Shotgun use with ammunition also must be approved by the agency that a volunteer constable assists, according to a SLED policy guide.

Contacted Wednesday by The Nerve, Dukes Isgett of Columbia, executive director of the South Carolina Constables Association, said volunteer constables must pay for their own equipment.

Under H. 3089, the tax deduction could be claimed by volunteer constables who log a minimum of 240 hours for activities that include:

  • Routine patrol;
  • Special events;
  • Administrative duties at law enforcement agencies;
  • Training attended with local law enforcement officers;
  • Annual training; and
  • Commuting to and from duty.

The Feb. 18, 2010, minutes of SLED’s Constable Advisory Council meeting reveal that a tax deduction for constables was discussed though it wasn’t pushed because of a state budget shortfall then. Hixon, who was first elected to the S.C. House in 2010, served on the council’s Legislative Committee.

H. 3089 likely will wait until 2014 as there are only three weeks left in this year’s legislative session.

Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell and a member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee that met Wednesday, proposed changing the effective date of the bill to July 2014 from this July. Simrill said, though, he believes there is enough money in the state budget to enact the bill for the upcoming fiscal year.

Olson can be reached at (803) 254-4411 or curt@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_curt and @olson_curt. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.