New SC laws go into effect on New Year’s Day 2018

Need to know: New SC laws for 2018

If you're thinking of buying a lion, you're out of luck.
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If you're thinking of buying a lion, you're out of luck.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping: Start saving your receipts at the gas pump.

When S.C. lawmakers last spring passed the state’s first gas-tax hike in 30 years, they included a few sections of the law that kick in on New Year’s Day.

One new feature is a tax credit for preventative maintenance on your car, truck or motorcycle.

To earn it, save your receipts – starting Jan. 1 – when you buy gas or pay for car maintenance, such as new tires or oil changes for up to two vehicles.

You then can claim those expenses on your 2018 taxes and be reimbursed either the amount you paid in higher gas taxes at the pump or what you spent on maintenance – whichever amount is smaller.

For context, the gas tax rose 2 cents a gallon in July. It will rise another 2 cents in July 2018, on its way to a 12-cent increase by 2022. S.C. tax officials estimate the tax credit could save the average driver $15 next year, and as much as $55 by 2022.

The gas-tax credit is just one of a few laws that take effect on New Year’s Day, affecting South Carolinians.

Here’s how the others will affect you.

You can no longer bring home an African lion as a pet

Until New Year’s Day, South Carolina was one of only five states nationally with no restrictions on people keeping dangerous wild animals, including apes or tigers, as pets. That changes on New Year’s Day.

Last spring, S.C. lawmakers passed a law aimed at eliminating exotic pets – and the risk of one escaping – in South Carolina.

The new law makes it illegal for everyday S.C. residents – in other words, not zoos – to buy or own large cats, apes or non-native bears.

But don’t worry. If you already own an African lion, cougar or some other exotic animal, you can keep your furry friend for the rest of its life, so long as you follow a few new rules:

▪  You must register the animal with your local animal control agency and pay a one-time, $500 fee to help the agency pay to enforce the new law

▪  You must give that animal control agency a contingency plan showing how the animal should be quickly and safely recaptured if it escapes

▪  You must maintain vet records and other important paperwork, such as documents proving you owned that grizzly bear in your backyard before Jan. 1, 2018

Animal control can confiscate your pet jaguar if you break those rules, if the animal threatens anyone or if it is in danger. At least 25 S.C. residents are thought to own such pets, though that number could be higher, lawmakers have said.

Your DMV fees will rise

Starting Jan. 1, the biennial registration fee for S.C. cars and trucks rises by $16 – another provision of the gas-tax hike.

If you’re younger that 65, you will pay $40 to register your car every two years, up from $24. If you’re at least 65 years old or disabled, you will pay $36, up from $20.

“Green” vehicles will be hit harder by the new law, so don’t think you can get around the higher gas tax by using an alternative fuel.

South Carolina’s electric car owners will pay a new $120 “road user fee” when they register with the Department of Motor Vehicles every two years. Hybrid owners will owe $60.

The extra revenue will go to the Transportation Department’s Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund, which helps pay to repair or improve S.C. roads and bridges.

Your local election will go on

Starting on New Year’s Day, having just one candidate on the ballot for an election won’t be an excuse to cancel it.

S.C. lawmakers this year repealed a 2003 law requiring local governments to call off any general or special election when there was only one candidate. The new law also requires elections for state-level races when only one candidate is in the field.

That law had saved money for municipalities but was probably unconstitutional, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office concluded in 2003. That is because the state Constitution gives every qualified voter “an equal right to elect officers and be elected to fill public office” – and canceling elections disqualified write-in candidates.

You can take a larger tax deduction for college tuition

If you’re putting a S.C. student through college, you now can claim a tax deduction for 50 percent of his or her tuition, up from 25 percent before the gas-tax hike was passed. (Yes, this is another piece of the gas-tax law.)

The change expands the maximum tuition tax deduction to $1,500 a year for S.C. college students, up from the previous $850-a-year maximum for students at four-year colleges and the $350-a-year cap for students at two-year schools.

Low-income, working families can save hundreds

Thousands of low-income S.C. taxpayers who work will see their state income tax bill shrink after lawmakers folded a new earned-income tax credit into the state’s gas-tax hike.

That tax credit will start Jan. 1 and be phased in gradually. About 150,000 taxpayers will get a tax credit worth $286, on average, in 2023.

The tax credit could shrink what some taxpayers owe the state to zero. However, because it is non-refundable, it won’t result in the state writing you a check for any credit left over.

Starting this year, working-class families also can get a boost from the state’s upward adjustment of its tax credit for families with two workers. Taxable earnings for that credit, now capped at $30,000 a year, will increase $3,333 a year to $50,000 by 2023. The maximum tax credit for those families gradually will rise to $350 in 2023 from $210 now.

Manufacturers get a tax break

Starting Jan. 1, the property tax on manufacturers drops to 9 percent from 10.5 percent. The change could cut up to $85 million in business taxes.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks