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ISSUE 13.35
Aug. 29, 2014

RECENT ISSUES:
8/22 | 8/15 | 8/08 | 8/01

Index

News :
Still pushing hard after 50 years
Photo :
Barn, near Hyman, S.C.
Legislative Agenda :
Firing it up, author event
Palmetto Politics :
New exec is a familiar Statehouse face
Commentary :
What it takes to merit a weekly column
Spotlight :
S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus
My Turn :
Balancing budgets on the backs of local governments
Feedback :
Share your opinions (even rant, rave)
Scorecard :
Accountability cuts two ways
Megaphone :
The ox is in the ditch
Tally Sheet :
Research past bills, proposals
Encyclopedia :
S.C. Educational Radio

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

451,000

That’s the number of South Carolinians who are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Be safe out there. More.

MEGAPHONE

The ox is in the ditch

“We would be the dry bone in the valley without any skills.”

-- Former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, a consummate quote machine on the need for technical training. 

ENCYCLOPEDIA

S.C. Educational Radio

The South Carolina Educational Radio Network (SCERN) began broadcasting in 1972 when WETR (90.1) Greenville signed on the air, the first transmitter site of what became an eight-transmitter, statewide public radio network. As of 2002 transmitter sites included Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Sumter, Aiken, Conway and Rock Hill. These sites have allowed SCERN to fulfill its mission of providing continuous public radio programming to more than three hundred thousand people per week in three states.

SCERN began as a unit of the South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) commission, under the guidance of Vice President William D. Hay, and continued into the twenty-first century to be governed and licensed by this commission. SCERN has benefited from its association with SCETV since, as each SCERN transmitter site began operations, SCETV transmission towers and engineers were in place to support SCERN transmissions, allowing SCERN to offer statewide public radio service before most states were able to do so.

Since 1995 SCERN has used computer automation systems and content partnerships to offer NPR news, various music formats, and entertainment programming. Automation allowed SCERN to move to a 24-hour operation day in 1996, while content partnerships have resulted in programming such as the Clemson University program Your Day and Arts Daily with the South Carolina Arts Commission. In addition, SCERN is home to Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, the recipient of two Peabody awards. The program debuted in 1980 and is currently the longest-running jazz series on public radio.

The majority of funding for SCERN is secured through listener memberships to the ETV Endowment of South Carolina. Remaining funding is secured through corporate underwriting and an annual grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today, the network is called SCETV Radio and can be found online here.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Michelle Maher. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)

PALMETTO PRIORITIES

Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.

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News

Still pushing hard after 50 years

State's technical education system trains more with less money

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

AUG. 29, 2014 -- Imagine if South Carolina had not had its much-touted series of state technical colleges over the last 50 years. 

“We would be the dry bone in the valley without any skills,” said retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, who served as governor from 1959 to 1963 and is considered the father of the state’s technical education system.

Today as the 16 campuses of the system are accommodating more students and training them for jobs at places like BMW, Boeing and Continental Tire, there’s less money with state funding dollars barely above what was appropriated more than 20 years ago.

“I shudder to think what our state would be like without a thriving technical college system,” said Dr. Ben Dillard, president of Florence-Darlington Technical College. “We are so important to economic development. 

“Our technical colleges train over 60 percent of the middle-skilled technicians employed.  I believe that without our colleges the manufacturing economy in South Carolina would collapse.”

Dr. Mary Thornley, head of Trident Technical College in the Charleston area, said the technical training system has been a game-changer for South Carolina workers because it attracts new employers. 

“I can’t imagine our state without technical colleges. We would be less able to compete in the global economy without them,” she said. “Whenever training is required to meet a need in a community, the technical colleges step up and deliver. They are a critical component of the state’s economic development strategy. Many of our well-respected employers probably would not have located here if not for the technical college system.”

Robbie Barnett, an associate vice president at the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, said South Carolina likely now would not be one of the fastest-growing economies in the Southeast without the state’s technical training system.

“Our citizens continue to depend on them to make higher education accessible and affordable, and businesses continue to look to them for their workforce training,” he said.

Doing more with less

In all of the public colleges and universities in the state, more than half are undergraduates in colleges in the state’s technical education system. In the fall of 2012, the system’s full-time equivalency enrollment was 62,456 students. That’s almost double the 33,581 FTE students from 20 years earlier. 

During that same span, state funding rose from $111.6 million in 1993 to a peak of $171.3 million in 2000, only to drop to $97.5 million during the Great Recession. Funding in the 2014-15 budget is $123.7 million. If the level of peak funding were adjusted for inflation, current funding would be about $237 million, according to a federal inflation calculator. 

Bottom line: The state’s tech school system today is training twice as many students with half of the money it had more than a decade ago.

Meeting the mission

Technical training offers businesses a way to get skilled workers trained in the way that they want them trained. 

“Industry is touchy, touchy, touchy about learning skills their way,” Hollings said.

He admits he brought the technical education to South Carolina after witnessing a training program in Ohio in the late 1950s. At the time, the state was moving away from an agrarian economy. Textiles, the state’s manufacturing backbone, was encountering foreign threats as well as peaks and valleys of work. For the state to grow, Hollings thought it had to be able to offer businesses something different and compelling.

What he came up with was a 100-day pledge -- a promise to a company that if it moved to the Palmetto State, he would guarantee the company would have a facility and workers to run it within 100 days.   Technical training was the key part of that promise.

“He was taking a lot of risk saying, ‘We’ll give you a building and workers within a 100 days.’” said Dr. Jimmie Williamson, appointed this year to head of the S.C. Technical College System. “He was able to deliver.”

In the years since, the state has been able to attract brand names like BMW and Boeing by being nimble enough to provide the skilled training they needed. Boeing, for example, has trained 2,800 workers through Trident Tech in a few short years, according to the college’s David Hansen.

“We are the engine that has helped this economy rebound because we stayed strong,” Williamson said, adding that the system’s various training programs allowed workers to get new specialized skills to be able to rejoin the workforce.

“We have not been given the credit for the recovery that we maybe should have. We are an important factor in that whole equation. For people to have the skills that they need, we’ve always been there.”

Years ahead offer opportunities, challenges

Across the state, many tech school campuses are gearing up for 50-year celebrations. Greenville Tech already marked the anniversary two years ago; the state system did last year; Trident Tech is honoring its roots throughout this year.

In the years ahead, technical colleges plan to keep up with the developing needs of industry. 

“We are in lock step with what’s happening in terms of economic development,” Williamson said. “As the technical college system goes, so goes the state. Who would have thought 20 years ago that we would have been an aeronautics and automobile hub?

“Whatever is identified as an emerging need, we are going to try to fill that void and fill that niche.”

S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the technical college system was a remarkable asset for the state.

In recruiting a company to the state, the crucial factors are sites, infrastructure and workforce,” he said. “Through programs like readySC, we’re able to show a company that our state will not only help them find the right site, but we’ll also work with them to screen, hire and train their workforce. readySC is a key tool in our economic toolkit, because the technical system can create a customized training program for the company.”

But there are challenges ahead, such as maintaining instructional equipment and support.

“You can’t train somebody on an old World War II lathe and put them in an industry with computer-controlled equipment,” he said. “We are constantly upgrading and have a need to upgrade our equipment, software and curriculum.”

Meanwhile, Dillard pointed to the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SiMT), a specialized facility that supports industry from around the region.

“Our facility is a huge draw for new industries considering moving to the area or the state, and more than one economic development professional has attributed their success in landing a new industry to access to the SiMT,” he said. 

“It also serves as a recruitment tool for Florence-Darlington Technical College. Dozens of high school students, teachers and counselors visit annually.”

In the Charleston area, Trident Tech is moving full speed ahead to accommodate Boeing. It is working on designing a $79 million Aeronautical Training Center that will house a projected 2,100 students in the 215,000-square-foot building. About half of the money has been secured or pledge so far.

Photo

Barn, near Hyman, S.C.


High summer finds a crop in the field in front of an old barn in Hyman, a small community just outside Pamplico, in rural Florence County, S.C. Photo by Linda W. Brown. More at BetterSouth.org.

Legislative Agenda

Firing it up, author event

Two items pop out as being of interest next week:

  • Pot meeting: The Senate Medical Marijuana Study Committee will meet 1 p.m. Sept. 3 in 105 Gressette for the first time. On the agenda:  the purpose of the committee, a review of marijuana laws, a clinical trial at MUSC and more.

  • Wilson book. Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg will speak 3 p.m. Sept. 7 at his 2013 book, “Wilson,” at the Robert Mills Carriage House (1616 Blanding Street) in Columbia through an event coordinated by Historic Columbia. At 5 p.m., he’ll sign books on the porch of the boyhood home (1705 Hampton Street) of the subject of his biography, 28th President Woodrow Wilson. More info.

Palmetto Politics

New exec is a familiar Statehouse face

The person with a face that’s familiar around the Statehouse has been named to be executive director of the S.C. Retirement Systems Investment Commission.

Michael Hitchcock, chief attorney and assistant clerk since 2001, takes over the job at a $230,000 salary from Sarah Corbett, who resigned after three months. Corbett took over from former GOP Sen. Greg Ryberg of Aiken, who retired in June after being brought in last year to quell contentiousness at the commission. 

The commission manages pension investments worth more than $29 billion for about 500,000 state employees, retirees, local governments, teachers and more. Hitchcock begins September 8. More.

Commentary

What it takes to merit a weekly column

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

AUG. 29, 2014 -- People often ask how it is possible to write a new column every single week. 

On some weeks, like this one when state news has been excruciatingly slow, it’s not easy.

Through the years, I’ve written about 700 columns, the equivalent of 8 books. (And yes, I know newspaper readers have thrown them away every single week for 13 years!)

Generally, it’s not tough to find a commentary subject. Because I focus on Statehouse policy and politics, I monitor more than 30 state and national publications with an eye peeled for particular subjects: poverty, politics, the state’s economy and budget, education, environmental conflicts, health care and statistics that compare the Palmetto State to the rest of the country. 

In particular, I look for intriguing stories or trends that may have a nugget of information that needs more inquiry. Often, a headline will be enough for me to think, “Well, that’s a good idea” or “That’s really stupid” and then poke around a little more. 

This week, for example, it seemed really dumb that members of the S.C. House returned to Columbia -- at a cost of more than $30,000 -- to consider two relatively minor vetoes by Gov. Nikki Haley. One bill called for libraries to be able to throw out unruly patrons, which seemed like an issue that might not actually require time and attention by the state legislature. Perhaps if libraries with the problem had proper rules and procedures in place, they could get rid of people for disturbances without having to get the legislature involved.

The other bill sought to allow a tax hike to pay for firefighting in the Murrells Inlet area. While it may be needed, this again seems like something that could have been done locally -- or at least put off a few months to be passed next year without having to spend the $30,000 for a special session. 

Maybe there was something else going on in Columbia -- a favor or paying back a political debt -- that merited the special session. Who knows? More than anything, the one-day, three-hour session seemed like an interesting story to comment on as being dumb and a waste of time, but it didn’t have enough power for a full column. It only merited (count them) three paragraphs.

Then comes the story that House Speaker Bobby Harrell, pummeled for months with negative stories about possible ethical improprieties, appointed a special 10-member House panel to look into ways to toughen the state’s domestic violence laws. This action followed a powerful five-part series by The Post and Courier about the state’s too-high rate of women killed by men and the legislature’s convenient neglect of the issue for years.

While the domestic violence issue, which I’ve written about several times, has merit, this week’s developments smelled more like an embattled House speaker desperately looking for good headlines than an issue driving the story. So again, that issue (two paragraphs) was out.

Other possibilities for this week’s column and why they were rejected:

  • How the Carolinas resolved a border dispute (too arcane);

  • State Supreme Court to hear case over video poker losses (not a big fan of video poker);

  • Charleston restaurants reportedly violating labor laws (too local);

  • Zais tells group that 4-year degree doesn’t guarantee success (tired of the lame duck state superintendent);

  • College of Charleston to try to build diversity in admissions (interesting, but doesn’t have enough zing);

  • Tourism officials fear impact of offshore drilling (this is a little better, but this isn’t a particularly new subject);

  • Rubio, Rand Paul visit state (the presidential candidates are already coming this much? Tired of them already).

Bottom line: There was nothing that really got up my dander. And in calling around and emailing people about what new was happening in the state, there only seemed to be the routine work of government, few meetings on substantive issues and no big headlines that screamed out for a comment.

So what’s a guy to do? Write a column about how he writes columns?

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  brack@statehousereport.com.

Spotlight

S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus. Organized almost 25 years ago, the Caucus has played an important role in many of the historic issues facing our state. As a vibrant minority party in the Senate, its role is to represent our constituents and present viable alternatives on critical issues. The S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus remains a unique place for this to occur in our policy process.

My Turn

Balancing budgets on the backs of local governments

By Justin T. Bradley
Special to Statehouse Report

 AUG. 29, 2014 -- Every taxpayer should pay attention to the attempts in Columbia by legislators to ignore their statutory obligation by raiding the Local Government Fund (LGF).

Since 2009, our Republican legislators have voted to override the law and fund the local government fund at less than the amount required by law, 4.5 percent of the previous year’s revenues according to SC Code § 6-27-30. This started as an understandable, but short-sighted, way to save money during the recession since revenues in 2009 were significantly lower than their peak.

However, this charade became very transparent this year, when elected officials in Columbia were scrambling to spend larger than expected revenue estimates on their pet projects while crafting the FY 2014-15 budget. This week, word leaked that Republican Rep.Brian White, who chairs the House Ways and Means committee, floated an idea at the House Republican Caucus meeting this month to eliminate the LGF completely.

Shouldn’t fiscal conservatives champion attempts by lawmakers to cut spending? Of course, but cutting the LGF does not reduce spending at either the state or local level. In fact, this action has the opposite effect.

At the state level, lawmakers are not reducing the LGF to shrink the bottom-line. Instead, these dollars are being spent on other items. Even though lawmakers raided the LGF in this year’s budget, it resulted in a document that was the largest in SC history.

The effect on our counties and municipalities is much greater and requires a background on the LGF itself to understand the effect. The Home Rule Act in 1975 established county governments in SC; however the Act did not completely cede complete control to the county government.

Instead, counties were given a dual role: 1. as a local government providing local services, and 2. as an arm of the state providing state agency support. As part of the second role, the state has imposed numerous mandates on the counties, from providing facilities and personnel for state agencies to carrying out specific state functions. One of the more ironic mandates is for the counties to provide an office for our county legislative delegation. As The Nerve recently reported, a county can avoid doing so but would be required make substitute payments directly to lawmakers.

The State Aid to Subdivisions Act, which encompasses the LGF, is intended to help local governments offset these costs and blunt the impact of property taxes when the county is performing a function of state government. The state is required by statute to send 4.5% of last year’s revenue to the local governments. Instead, our legislators write a proviso to ignore the law during the budget process, giving them free reign to spend that money on their pet projects. Since 2009, the default position by our legislators is to not follow the law.

When the LGF is not fully funded, counties are forced to make up the shortfall with county revenues, after taxpayers have already sent state dollars to Columbia for this purpose. These county tax dollars could have been spent on county functions, such as county roads or parks, or even returned to the taxpayers. Instead they are diverted to fund state services. In other words, taxpayers pay taxes twice – once to the state, and again to the county – but receive services only once.

One misconception is that the LGF means that local governments are flush with cash. In Spartanburg County, the LGF does not even cover the cost of the mandated functions. In 2009, the amount that should have come to Spartanburg County under the statute was $15.2 million.

State mandates resulted in a net expenditure by the county on state functions of $15.1 million, which would have netted Spartanburg a $67,325 gain from the LGF. That year, legislators raided the LGF and Spartanburg actually received $13.9 million and county taxpayers had to come up with $1.2 million to pay for state functions and offset the cut. The numbers have only become more severe over time. In FY14, Spartanburg County’s revenue under the statute should have been $13 million. If that had been the case, county taxpayers would have still been forced to come up with $1.3 million to cover additional state mandates. Instead, the revenue was $10.4 million and county taxpayers were forced to come up with $3.9 million to pay for state mandated functions.

In those instances, counties are left with two choices, raise taxes to cover the shortfall or cut essential services (which you, the taxpayer already paid for with the taxes sent to Columbia). Either scenario harms the taxpayer.

It is true that we could use more fiscal restraint in all levels of government, which is what motivated me to run for County Council. We need true reform, such as modernizing our budget process to tie spending to results and make elected officials more accountable to the taxpayer.

However, these are debates we should be having at the local level, not in Columbia. Raiding the LGF is not the conservative position, especially if it forces counties into raising taxes. It only means lawmakers in Columbia are able to claim the title of fiscal restraint while forcing local officials to clean up their mess and take the blame.

I welcome a real debate with Rep. White about Home Rule and ways to truly reform the system. Eliminating the LGF is yet another reform-in-name-only tactic by those in Columbia seeking to preserve their power in the status quo.

Justin T. Bradley is an incoming Republican councilmember in Spartanburg County.  He is a corporate attorney and previously clerked in Gov. Mark Sanford’s policy office on budget and education issues. 

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Scorecard

Accountability cuts two ways

Domestic violence. House Speaker Bobby Harrell finally got some good headlines for appointing a 10-member panel to deal with domestic violence. Now do something about it.

Diversity. Hats off to new College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell for exploring a new way to increase diversity at the college. More.

Accountability. Who’s surprised that Gov. Nikki Haley wants to put politics aside regarding the state Department of Social Services? Of course she does -- she wasn’t the whole subject to go away ever since hard-hitting political ads criticized her leadership for picking a terrible department head who got in a heap of trouble for mismanaging the agency. Governor, if you’re going to take credit for lots of jobs, you have to be accountable for the things that went wrong on your watch too. (Isn’t this the “accountability” you campaigned on in 2010?)

History texts. Another reason for a big thumbs down for the state’s rejection of Common Core: Charleston County history students don’t have texts because the ones ordered had to be returned. More.

Zais. Yet another vote of no confidence for lame duck State Superintendent Mick Zais. Way to go to motivate college students by telling them a four-year degree doesn’t guarantee success. What planet? More.

One-day House session. Still doesn’t make much sense. 
credits

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2014 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.