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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As Election Day draws near and political rhetoric heats up, voters face a challenge determining what's true and what's distorted. Within just the past few days, the state GOP selectively pointed to passages in Sen. Vincent Sheheen's book to claim the Democratic nominee for governor is hiding a liberal tax-increase agenda, while Sheheen debuted an ad claiming Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed 4-year-old kindergarten.
On Thursday, state Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore said Sheheen's 2013 self-published book, titled "The Right Way," shows that "voters are in the dark on his vision for the state."
Moore pointed to a line in the book that says removing some sales tax exemptions, as a legislatively-created commission recommended in 2010, would raise an additional $600 million. But Moore left out the next line, which advocates using that broadened tax base to lower the state's overall sales tax, which Sheheen wrote is too high at 6 percent.
A day later, Sheheen released a TV ad criticizing Haley's pre-election-year budget vetoes to public education and accusing her of vetoing 4-year-old kindergarten, though she actually signed legislation expanding the program.
Over the last two years, Sheheen has successfully sought to expand the state's full-day kindergarten program for at-risk 4-year-olds to more school districts. Haley did not veto those budget items, despite the inference viewers might draw from his ad. And in June, she signed a bill that, among other things, eventually expands full-day 4K statewide.
The veto Sheheen is referring to targeted a bill reauthorizing and reforming First Steps, the agency tasked with boosting children's chances for success. Its duties include overseeing private providers in the 4K program. Haley's veto message said the agency needed further review. Legislators overwhelmingly overrode the veto.
The ad says Haley cut education while giving her own staff 25 percent raises. When Haley took office in 2011, she gave substantial raises to some staff, notably paying her chief of staff $27,000 more than Gov. Mark Sanford's, or $125,000. However, a reshuffling of duties reduced her staff and total payroll, The Associated Press determined at the time.
Haley did propose cutting education in previous years, including vetoing $10 million for teacher pay raises that Sheheen mentions in his ad. That veto also was overridden. Her 2012 budget plan would have decreased state funding to education, and her veto pen hit education programs hardest during her first three years.
But Sheheen's ad omits this year, when Haley announced a budget plan with more than $160 million in new spending on K-12 education. Legislators adopted the proposal and added to it in the 2014-15 budget.
Meanwhile, as Moore kicked off what he described as a campaign to inform the public, he took aim at multiple passages in Sheheen's book. Among them:
—Moore pointed to support for creating a "low, statewide property tax," without mentioning Sheheen first says in the book he wants to "abolish local property taxes for school operating expenses." That education funding idea has been introduced by Republicans in both the House and Senate since 2012, though those bills went nowhere.
—He accused Sheheen of wanting to "hike income taxes." What the book recommends is adjusting tax brackets so that middle-class taxpayers pay less and more residents pay something. His book notes that more than 40 percent of tax filers pay no state income tax. Moore doesn't mention that the book calls for lowering the industrial property tax rate for manufacturing and warehouses. Reducing that 10.5 percent rate could be done by eliminating income tax loopholes, Sheheen wrote.
—Moore criticized Sheheen's road and bridge work funding ideas, including an alternative fuel tax and increased license and registration fees. However, those are on a list the book says "deserve further study." Like Haley, Sheheen says he doesn't want to raise the state's 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which has remained unchanged since 1987. Independent candidate Tom Ervin faults both Sheheen and Haley for that, saying neither has a real plan for funding infrastructure. Haley has released no plan. She has said she'll do that in January.
—Moore accuses Sheheen of wanting to create an Internet sales tax. That refers to Sheheen saying "we need to work with other states to get Congress" to pass a federal law requiring out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes so they don't have an advantage over in-state businesses.
However, Haley herself has called untaxed Internet sales unfair to South Carolina's brick-and-mortar businesses.
That's the position she took in opposing incentives to bring Amazon.com to South Carolina early in her tenure. Legislation eventually passed in 2011 without her signature, giving the company a 4 1/2-year exemption from collecting sales taxes from South Carolina customers in exchange for a promise of 2,000 full-time jobs and a $125 million investment.
Legislators blasted Haley as almost single-handedly torpedoing Amazon's move. She now counts 750 of those Amazon jobs in the tally of overall jobs announced by her administration.
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