Triangulating the budget
Senate’s three corners pulling on process
By Bill Davis, EditorMAY 17, 2013 -- State Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) has some really tough choices to make.
To get his vision of how the state should handle its billions in the coming fiscal year, the chair of the Finance Committee has to either reach out to his usual allies, moderate Democrats, or to the very conservative members of his own party.
The latter would signify Leatherman searching for votes “in uncharted waters,” according to several sources close to the budget-writing process.
In recent years, Leatherman has counted on Senate Democrats and some moderate, country-club Republicans to get the votes he needed to get things done. But the 2013-14 budget is proving to be more difficult than usual, thanks in large part to shifts in the Senate’s political landscape.
The addition of three new members -- Tom Corbin of Greenville, Tom Young of Aiken and Katrina Shealy of Lexington -- to the self-proclaimed “William Wallace Caucus” has tipped the balance of power in the Senate. That caucus now represents about a third of the Senate -- give or take 13 senators -- who have strong ties to libertarian and Tea Party groups.
That means that while the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” may remain pithy, it may not hold as true this legislative session - - at least not without some major political horse-trading.
Sen. Tom Davis (R-Bluffton), one of the deans of the William Wallace Caucus, hopes that he and similarly aligned senators will be able to use their newfound leverage to better direct the state’s budget to a leaner and more conservative fiscal target.
But Democrats are apparently not in the best mood to play ball currently, thanks to the majority Republican plan to avoid expanding state health care programs via Obamacare, according to several sources, including Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington).
“I don’t know what my Republican friends don’t understand about a nine-to-one match,” said Malloy, referencing the amount the state would get for every dollar it spent on expanding Medicaid health care programs through federal reforms.
Many in the Senate on both sides of the political divide have said the state will eventually get over its aversion to more federal dollars and control, but perhaps not in time to take advantage of the huge money-match ratio available over the first few years of the federal program.
Davis said Leatherman’s most likely offering to Democrats will be enhanced funding for statewide K-4 programs - - “that has been a policy agenda item for them since the beginning,” he said.
And there are plenty of issues that have still not been dealt with on the floor of the Senate this week during budget debates including funding for health care, higher education, public safety and infrastructure.
Several senators, staffers and observers have likened the action on the floor thus far as “shadowboxing” in which the bigger fights have been delayed to next week. That potentially increases the chance that the entire legislature will have to return for a special week-long session this summer to complete the budget.
Funding road projects, one of the biggest brawls yet to be fought on the floor of the Senate, will face a different fight when a handful of senators and representatives meet later in a conference committee to hash out a compromise budget bill both chambers can agree on.
Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler (D-W. Columbia) has been pushing for the state to issue bonds to begin covering the cost of road repair projects throughout the state.
Given a lukewarm reception in the Senate, Setzler’s plan, which is enabled by redirecting the nearly $100 million raised annually from sales tax on vehicle purchases, is likely dead on arrival in the House, according to sources there within the Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Bonneau), a sometimes William Wallacer, put up an amendment calling for 10 percent of all new tax revenues to be dedicated to roads project. It was defeated, but by a 21-20 margin, which underscores the difficulty Leatherman could have pushing through his budget.
Crystal ball: Next week will be a doozy in the Senate - - either on the floor or in private haggling sessions behind closed doors. Leatherman will have to use all the political acumen accumulated in his 33 years in the Senate to strike just the right balance. Otherwise, the budget that emerges next week may appeal so much to the far-right and Democrats in the Senate that it will become unwieldy and indefensible in a compromise committee with House members or to the governor and her powerful veto pen.
Effect of proposing a cut to SEWE?
Budget on Senate floor for second week
With the budget debate raging on the floor of the Senate, there are no major committee meetings scheduled next week. In the House, cleanup work will continue on Senate bills and some consideration on bills likely to reemerge next legislative session will begin.
- House 3M. The full committee will meet Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. or an hour and a half after adjournment in 427 Blatt to discuss a full agenda, including bills that would control patient confidentiality and state board assignments. Agenda.
- House Education. The full committee will meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. in 433 Blatt to discuss bills that would require more mental health specialists in public schools and others. Agenda.
- House Judiciary. The general laws subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. in 516 Blatt to discuss a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into places that serve alcohol by the drink. Agenda.
- House LCI. The full committee will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in 403 Blatt to discuss a bill that would give further credit protection to state citizens whose identity may be compromised by a massive hacking incident at Revenue last year. Agenda.
New plan to be unveiled
Senate Democrats have promised to unveil their new plan next week for expanded Medicaid coverage that would include roughly 300,000 South Carolinians. How hard they fight for expansion, which is not likely to pass muster in the Senate or the House due to GOP antipathy, will forecast how hard the budget fight will be in general this session.
Women cry foul over board picks
Upset with the way candidates to state college and university boards are picked, a group of politically astute women are fighting back with a publicity campaign powered by infographics, op-eds and social media.
Project XX (the two Xs represent the two chromosomes that characterize a woman’s DNA as different from men, who are XY) seeks to get more women involved in public service. They also want to the process reformed to get rid of nepotism and cronyism, as highlighted in this infographic on an election to a seat on the Francis Marion University board:
So far this session, 10 trustees with familial ties to the legislature were elected to state college or universities boards. Procuring an administration department
The House this week passed an amendment to its own bill creating a Department of Administration that would create some legislative oversight of procurement.
The amendment is seen as a response to concerns in the Senate that future governors would have the ability to write contracts and direct the state’s massive purchasing power. Some say they feel that so much new power in the hands of any South Carolina governor could be too corrupting. They cite examples in Illinois, which has had a few governors serving time for cutting illegal kick-back deals.
The House’s amended plan would create a state Contracts and Accountability Authority that would mirror the current makeup of the Budget and Control Board, which would see its duties into Administration. Just like the BCB, the authority would be comprised of five members, including the governor, the comptroller general, the treasurer, and one appointment each from the Speaker of the House and from the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
‘Planegate' flies toward Haley
Maybe future governors should just drive.
This week, the state Senate voted to sell the state’s two official planes after criticisms were lodged once again over Gov. Nikki Haley’s use of them.
This time, Democrats were howling that a videographer paid out of her campaign fund was allowed to accompany and film her on 43 flights around the state as she delivered speeches and answered questions. [The State newspaper reported it was actually 41 flights.]
An Ethics Commission opinion cleared the governor this week of any wrongdoing, but that has done little to calm the rhetoric, spurred on by past misuses of air travel.
Last year, Haley came under scrutiny for using the planes for political, not governing, reasons. Those criticisms led in part to her five-point ethics reform plan. A few years before, then-Gov. Mark Sanford led the state and the nation on a wild-goose chase down the Appalachian Trail when it was discovered Sanford had taken a commercial flight to South America to hook up with his current fiancée.
Time to focus on Southern Crescent of Shame
By Andy Brack, PublisherMAY 17, 2013 -- A few years back, Columbia public relations guru Bud Ferillo made a film about several economically distressed counties that he dubbed the “Corridor of Shame.” This area, which stretched along Interstate 95 from Dillon County to Jasper County, got a lot of attention when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama toured an old Dillon middle school in the run-up to the 2008 election.
But did you ever wonder whether South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame was an anomaly -- or whether something similar was happening on the other sides of our state borders? Unfortunately, similar conditions continue, extending north to Tidewater Virginia and curving south and west across middle Georgia and Alabama before swinging north to the Mississippi Delta.
Our Corridor of Shame is just a piece of a Southern Crescent of Shame of economically distressed areas inhabited by more than 4 million people. They live in a rural South shaped by long-term poverty and lack of economic opportunities outside of agriculture. [At right, see map of poverty in 2008; the darker that the red is, the higher the amount of poverty.] This Southern Crescent is home to as many people as live in the whole state of South Carolina. But unlike cities with the dynamism of Charleston, Columbia and Greenville or the increasing manufacturing prowess of Sumter, Anderson and Florence, the 100+ counties in the Crescent seem to be places where hope may go to die.
That’s not to say there aren’t success stories. Downtowns in places like Hampton, S.C., and Blakely, Ga., are getting new lives. Some forward-looking communities have taken extra steps to plan and innovate. Over recent years, for example, Vidalia, Ga., has branded itself as the go-to place for sweet, delicious onions. Prosperity shows throughout the town, but 25 percent of the people in Toombs County live in poverty. Or look at Hartsville, S.C., where Sonoco is making big investments in local education efforts to help create a more skilled work force for the future.
Still, there’s an sense of gloom in these Crescent towns, hamlets and crossroads that mixes with a pride of being less complicated and more friendly, relaxed and personal than generally found in suburbs. A bank employee in Fitzgerald, Ga., this week reflected that her young son was growing up in a good place, but schools in her nearby hometown didn’t have the high-tech tools that her brother’s son had in his school in Seattle. She worried that he’d be left behind.
It’s not hard to see the Crescent stand out on maps that display how its counties have higher rates of poverty, unemployment, single family households, chlamydia, obesity and diabetes. With the blink of an eye, it’s easy to see that these areas easily correlate with another map at the left -- that of where enslaved people lived in 1860.
Folks, the Southern Crescent is a remnant of plantation life -- a region that has been the soft underbelly of the Deep South for generations. One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, it’s time that this area starts receiving the same attention that Appalachia did in the 1960s War on Poverty.
The Center for a Better South is starting a three-prong effort to focus attention on the Southern Crescent. First, it has a new Web site -- www.SouthernCrescent.org -- that highlights a different image of life in the region every other day. Second, it seeks to work with nonprofits and foundations to fund research and studies on how to coordinate better and smarter delivery of existing services to infuse more dynamism in the region. And the Center encourage creation of a special national study commission to recommend federal and state policies to raise living standards.
This effort may not cost a lot of money. The Center presumes that if various state and federal government bureaucracies get out of their comfort zones and work with engaged rural communities, they can figure out ways to coordinate services better and create more economic opportunities.
After a week of riding roads in South Carolina and Georgia through Crescent communities, it’s clear that millions of rural Southerners want more opportunities for their counties. Now is the time to get moving so they don’t get left behind even more.
S.C. Association of Counties
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's featured underwriter is the South Carolina Association of Counties. The SCAC was chartered on June 22, 1967, and is the only organization dedicated to statewide representation of county government in South Carolina. Membership includes all 46 counties, which are represented by elected and appointed county officials who are dedicated to improving county government. SCAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that operates with a full-time staff in its Columbia offices. It is governed by a 29-member Board of Directors composed of county officials from across South Carolina. The Association strives to “Build Stronger Counties for Tomorrow” by working with member counties in the fields of research, information exchange, educational promotion and legislative reporting. More: http://www.sccounties.org.
100th anniversary leads to great training
By Jane Frederick, FAIA, LEED AP
Special to Statehouse Report
MAY 17, 2013 -- Last week at the American Institute of Architects South Carolina annual convention, we celebrated our 100th anniversary.
As part of the convention, 35 architects were trained to assist building officials in rapid safety assessments after a disaster. The seven-hour seminar, done through the American Institute of Architect’s Disaster Assistant Program, has been taught to architects throughout the country. After the 2011 tornadoes in North Alabama, 73 architects volunteered nearly 1,300 hours in Tuscaloosa alone. These volunteers helped people return to their homes and start rebuilding their lives.
The rapid assessments determine if a building is structurally sound and habitable without other non-structural hazards such as electrical, plumbing, mold, and/or emergency egress issues. The building is then labeled with one of three colored placards:
- Green means it’s safe to return.
- Yellow means that it is safe to enter temporarily and gather belongings.
- Red means it is unsafe.
The assessments and photographs are then turned into the local building department and FEMA.
A building with a Green Placard can be damaged , yet remain safe. Examples of damage considered safe include: temporary utility interruption, debris and/or water in the yard, cosmetic damages, and water intrusion only in non-essential living space.
Yellow Placard indicate restricted use. The restricted use may allow the homeowner to enter part of the building or the extent of damages cannot be determined by the rapid evaluation team and a more thorough inspection is required. Damages that are considered restricted use include: damage to structural components, water standing for more than 24 hours which will cause more damage such as mold, buckling floors and sub-flooring, damage that affects the safety, sanitation and/or security of the residence and wind damage that requires replacement of the roof, windows or siding.
Unsafe buildings noted with the Red Placard pose an imminent threat to life or safety. This is not a demolition order; demolition can only be determined by the building official. Unsafe buildings include: structures that are not feasible to repair, complete foundation and/or structural failure, and danger due to collapse hazard.
A key component of the AIA’s Disaster Assistant Program is the Good Samaritan Act that the South Carolina Legislature passed in 2012. It protects architects and engineers who are assisting local building departments in the assessments from liability issues. The act allows their services to occur within 30 days of a declared disaster at the request of the governor.
The instructor, Michael Lingerfelt, has provided numerous safety assessment evaluations including Hurricane Katrina, Northridge California earthquake and the tornadoes in north Alabama. He had endless stories about his experiences but one of the most telling was after a hurricane. Every house in the entire area was destroyed except one.
Everyone wanted to know what the homebuilder had done differently and he didn’t have an answer. He said, “ I just built it to code.”
Beaufort architect Jane Frederick served as president of the South Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2010.
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From an Idol to Vick
Our idol. St. Helena native Candice Glover is the newest winner of “American Idol." More.
Beaufort. Coastal Living magazine named Beaufort “America’s Happiest Seaside Town.” More.
Boeing. After four months of testing and retooling its battery system, the aeronautics company with a North Charleston plant restarted deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner. More.
Drones. While only one law enforcement department in the state is known to use unmanned surveillance drones, the House has already begun considering a bill to limit their future usage in South Carolina. More.
Vick. State Rep. Ted Vick (D-Chesterfield) was arrested for DUI this week as he reportedly tried to drive out of the Statehouse parking garage and before he was able to drive 100 feet. Last year, Vick was arrested for DUI with a young woman in his car, leading him to withdraw from the congressional race for the new 7th District. Video.