Slicing the pie
Legislators, urban areas get ready to carve up the state
By Bill Davis, senior editorMARCH 4, 2011 -- There are two major issues expected to dominate the second half of this year’s legislative session. First is the battle over the state budget. Second is something that might not even be decided in Columbia, but in a federal courtroom somewhere.
That issue is the redistricting of the state’s internal political boundaries brought on by the looming release of federal Census counts. Early counts have shown that the state’s population has grown enough to warrant an additional congressional district.
That’s good news for the state’s national political importance, but it could lead to a stiff fight in the legislature. Leaders in the General Assembly don’t expect the fight to center on redistricting seats in the House or Senate where Republicans overwhelmingly control things, but on the fight to carve out a seventh Congressional district.
According Statehouse brass, that fight could dominate much of the second half of this year’s legislative session that isn’t swallowed up in the budget fight.
The prelude to the main redistricting bout began this week with a state Senate Judiciary redistricting subcommittee having held its organizational meeting, and announced its calendar of public hearings throughout the state.
And the fight over the 7th could very well go statewide, according to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Oh, I’ve heard from every part of the state that they want it there -- along the coast, in Greenville, and in the part of the state bordering Charlotte,” said chairman James Harrison (R-Lexington).
Sectionalism could rear its head
Sectionalism could pit various parts of the state against each other, with increasingly urban parts of the state vying for bigger slice of the congressional pie.
Each congressional district will contain roughly 660,000 residents, and Harrison said it is the mandated goal of the various committees to come together to put out a plan that will clump together “communities of interest,” to make sure their interests are represented in Washington, D.C.
Harrison said that by choosing that district size, the feds have made it easier to protect the “minority-majority” district of Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.)
S.C. House Minority Leader Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews), echoing many others in the legislature, said that no matter what good work the legislature puts together, someone will sue, and throw the matter into federal court.
But the overall balancing act the legislature will have to perform to make sure everyone is represented in Columbia may be fraught with more problems than some in the Statehouse are letting on.
One state representative, speaking on anonymity, said that he expects the number of white Democrats serving in the House will be divided by half, thanks to a powerful Republican majority.
In the state Senate, some members grouse that the state is already out of balance, especially when it comes to taking care of its rural residents.
“I represent four counties, while some counties have four representatives,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville), a member of the Senate redistricting subcommittee whose district includes parts of four largely rural counties -- Chesterfield, Darlington, Lee and Marlboro counties.
Concerns over balance and fairness will be addressed at seven subcommittee meetings starting this month, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston), who also chairs the subcommittee and the full Judiciary Committee.
Those two-hour hearings will be held at technical schools, with two exceptions, throughout the state and begin at 6:30 p.m. at the following sites on the following dates:
• March 28, Myrtle Beach
• March 29, Aiken
• March 30, Rock Hill
• March 31, Greenville at the County Council building
• April 4, Beaufort
• April 5, Columbia at the Gressette Senate office building
• April 6, Florence
• April 7, Charleston
For more information, the Senate has launched a Web site while the House is waiting to announce its schedule and agenda.
Crystal ball: If anyone thinks that South Carolina’s rural voters are going to be taken care of in this process, they need to ask themselves why residents in neighboring North Carolina refer to Charlotte area as the Great State of Mecklenburg after the county it is located in. What’s next, the Great State of the Grand Strand? The Kingdom of Greenville? Stay tuned.
On tap next week
The lull in the House next week, as its members pore over the budget plan produced by the Ways and Means Committee, should clear the way for discussion of a bill pushed by the chair of that committee, Rep. Dan Cooper (R-Piedmont), that would change how school districts are awarded state funding, with an emphasis placed on poverty and student enrollment. Also on tap: abortion issues.
In the Senate, there will still be some leftover business from last week, namely finishing up debate and voting on an illegal immigration bill that would allow cops to ascertain immigration status in a wider range of instances. Following that, look for a bill that would limit punitive damage in civil suits to be on the floor later in the week.
In the House:
- Ways and Means schedule. The budget will be back from the printer on Monday, and rules require it to sit on legislators’ desks for a full week before being debated to give time to representatives to study the massive document. During the week of March 14, House members will debate the budget on the floor.
- Ag. The full committee will meet Tuesday, March 8 an hour after adjournment in 410 Blat to discuss a briefing from the Ways and Means committee and other proposed regulations and committee recommendations. More.
In the Senate:
- Education. The full Education Committee will meet Wednesday at 10 a.m. in 105 Gressette to discuss a series of proposed regulation and policy changes. More.
- Judiciary. The full committee will meet Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. or an hour and a half after adjournment in 516 Blatt to discuss subcommittee recommendations. More.
- LCI. The full committee will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in 403 Blatt to discuss subcommittee recommendations. More.
France, Wisconsin: Here we comeComments made this week by Gov. Nikki Haley sound eerily like moves made in Wisconsin and even France that has lead to widespread problems there. Specifically, Haley said at a town hall-style meeting that she intends to fight for trimming state employees' health care and retirement packages. But unlike other states and France, Haley is championing limiting only new hires’ benefits, and making good on packages offered to current employees. So, revolution averted -- at least for now.
"The Putt-Putt queen"
Guess who the first interview is with in The New York Times Magazine's newly redesigned issue: Gov. Nikki Haley.
While it is to be published in paper on Sunday, you can take a look now at the edited interview, "The Comet," online here.
Haley seems incredibly curt, self-assured and to-the-point. Best quote when asked about GOP colleagues who said before the November election that they'd vote for her opponent: "My colleagues know that I call them out whenever they do something wrong. ... To be honest, I don't care if they like me or not. What I care about is that they respect me."
Could be a long four years.
Winning … duh!
Three new pelts were tacked up on Gov. Nikki Haley’s legislative trophy room wall this week when the House voted to create a Department of Administration, require governors and lieutenant governor candidates to run on the same ticket, and to ask for a referendum for voters to decide if the state Superintendent of Education should be a gubernatorial appointee.
In the Senate, more movement has been made on a legislative voting bill that Haley cherishes, which would require more roll-call voting. But Haley may want to wait to uncork the bubbly, as both sides have yet to come a compromise on any of this. Additionally, the legislature’s call for departmental review of agencies will certainly intensify if the governor gets the DoA in her cabinet.
Fresh from being handed three legislative victories in the House, Gov. Nikki Haley fired a shot across the bow of the legislature this week by unveiling her intention of issuing a report card on how they address her agenda items.
Haley had promised to thaw relations between the executive and legislative branches frosted over by her predecessor, Gov. Mark Sanford, but this may prove to be a reversal of that promise. According to Statehouse sources, Haley has already put the fear of God into many legislators, with her populist charm, her Tea Party support and her connections to out-of-state election funding that could be used to unseat an incumbent. Sanford allegedly had an internal “enemies” list, and while Haley may be going public with those who displease her, some critics have argued she has bigger issues to deal with than this, like job creation.
State plays limbo with the tax policy and the bottom
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherMARCH 4, 2011 – Maybe now the worn political argument that state taxes are too high will die a painful public death.
Why? Because of the economy, cuts, exemptions and tax breaks have finally placed us at the bottom – 50th among U.S. states – in the amount of taxes taken in by the state of South Carolina.
According to a new “Facts and Figures” booklet by the nonprofit Tax Foundation, South Carolina collected $1,577 per person in fiscal 2009. That’s down more than $300 per person from $1,894 in 2008 when the Palmetto State ranked 44th.
More evidence of our low taxes: The Tax Foundation reports South Carolina’s state and local tax burden for fiscal 2009 was next to the bottom at $2,742 per person. In other words, when you combine the average amount in taxes paid at the state and local levels in South Carolina and figure out how much taxes are compared to income, South Carolina is almost at the bottom. If we had paid $65 less, we would have taken the bottom spot away from, you guessed it, Mississippi.
The impact: a budget with a big hole to plug because of elimination of taxes on groceries, elimination of the bottom income tax bracket and cuts for small business. Over the last five years, state lawmakers have passed tax cuts worth $640 million annually – which has led to $1.42 billion in lower state revenues in the same time span. And if you think government has grown massively, it hasn’t. The state’s budget has grown an average of 1.4 percent over the last 15 years – the same rate as population growth, according to state figures.
So with news from the Tax Foundation that we collected less per capita at the state level in 2009 and we have just about the lowest tax burden per capita of anyone, you’d think state lawmakers would be throwing some kind of party.
Nope. They want to lower those awful high taxes more, as witnessed by legislation introduced by state Rep. Jim Merrill to cut property taxes on “just about anyone who bought property in South Carolina after 2006,” according to a March 3 story in The Post and Courier. His biggest ally: S.C. Realtors. The cost: A cut to cities, counties and schools of another $220 million to $260 million at a time their budgets are reeling too.
Folks, let’s get this clear – continuing to cut taxes as revenues are lower than they’ve been in years is dumber than dumb. As one Statehouse observer said, such a strategy as we’re coming out of recession has the state eating its seed corn.
Harry Miley, a noted state economist who chaired the state Board of Economic Advisers for Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell, is flabbergasted about what’s happening to the state’s revenue stream.
“Obviously we don’t want to be on the top” he said. “I think it’s advantageous to be in the bottom half – better than average. But dead last on paying for government services? That’s just doesn’t seem very smart in the long run. You can’t fund your infrastructure. Your infrastructure crumbles.”
Miley likens South Carolina’s attitude on taxes to a family that decides to stop sending their kids to a dentist. Sure, he said, a family could decide not to spend that preventive health investment. Hooray – more pocket money now. But in 15 or 20 years, what will happen? The kids’ teeth will be rotten and they’ll have to go where? To a dentist for an expensive fix.
Miley says the state can essentially pay now by investing in infrastructure or pay bigger later.
“But we’re not willing to pay now and it’s costing us later – high dropout rates, obesity, crumbling roads, growing classroom size,” he said. “If you think we tax too high, we are the lowest taxing state in the country. Get off that boat.”
But most won’t. Instead of taking a balanced approach based on sound economic principles, conservative state lawmakers will keep on spewing the high tax rhetoric that has worked for years.
That’s not smart for South Carolina. But hey, we’re at the bottom of the education list too. So maybe we’re getting the government we deserve.
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Health care: Be careful what you wish for
MARCH 4, 2011 – Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true. President Obama handed South Carolina what Gov. Nikki Haley asked for, the option to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate. Monday at his meeting with state governors, he announced his support for the bipartisian “Empowering States to Innovate Act.” [Sponsored by Sens. Wyden (D-OR), Landrieu (D-LA) and Brown (R-MA)] This act will allow states to opt out of the national reform in 2014 rather than 2017.
South Carolina can now develop our own health reform model. The catch is, and there is always a catch, to access Medicaid waivers and the money provided by the small business tax credits and individual tax credits to fund our reform, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will have to believe our reform model is creditable. Our reform must cover as many people, be as affordable, be as comprehensive as the coverage that would have been offered through the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, while not increasing the Federal deficit.
South Carolina needs to accept this challenge. The only way we can fix our dysfunctional Medicaid program is to fix our entire health care system. That won’t happen fast enough at the national level but in the laboratories of democracy—the states , there is a good chance it can happen. Why shouldn’t South Carolina accept this challenge? Our governor asked for this opportunity!
The problem is we can’t do both –implement the ACA requirements and develop a SC reform plan to opt out of the ACA. South Carolina simply lacks the capacity to do both and then choose which way to go. We must choose now and move in that direction with all deliberate speed.
We actually have just two years to make this work—summer 2013. Can we do this big thing? Can we redesign and transform health care for ourselves? Our governor has said we can when she introduced the new director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tony Keck.
South Carolina needs to immediately impanel a group of our health policy experts and stakeholders then set them to the task of designing a fix for our health care mess. What is it South Carolinians need and want and how can we make it happen effectively and efficiently? Can we do this and meet the goals of the ACA?
We don’t have the advantages that Massachusetts had with their abundance of Harvard and MIT experts. We don’t have the folks who redesigned the health system of Taiwan but we have experts who know South Carolinians. If our stakeholders come together in good will with a common purpose , I know we can transform the current fragmented dysfunctional perverse system that makes health care in South Carolina too expensive, inaccessible, and of dubious or inconsistent quality.
South Carolina has 4.6 million people across four regions, Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee and the Lowcountry. We all know each other and like each other, mostly. With a series of town hall meetings we can capture consumer input. We can tap the talents and knowledge of the South Carolina Public Health Institute to convene, moderate, research a redesign of our health care system. The SCPHI is a politically neutral health leadership think tank dedicated to addressing health policy issues with a focus on evidence based efforts. They can lead key stakeholder s and consumers through the reform process.
We either do this to and for ourselves -- transform our health care system or by default it will be done for us by a federal plan. It is our choice. We should accept the challenge and create our own health care system—one that works for South Carolina by South Carolinians.
Lynn Bailey is a consulting health care economist based in Columbia, S.C.
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Up and down for Haley
Haley. Her agenda is sailing through the House. More.
Unemployment. Jobless claims drop in South Carolina. Again. More.
Unemployment. A new plan to address how much companies have to pay in state unemployment insurance rates could provide some much needed relief; or it will undo the work done last year to make sure that companies that regularly expunge seasonal employees skate free. Depends. More.
Haley. Working on your iPad while every other governor, even fellow Republicans, pay attention to President Obama? Stop editing Will Folks’ novel and at least mail it in with a fake smile. More.
Report cards. Gov. Nikki Haley has vowed to issue report cards on individual state legislators on how they respond to her agenda. What’s next, a slam book? Childish is right. More.
Act 388. Realtors are whining that homebuyers are shying away from purchasing because state law is forcing them to pay taxes on the the actual value of their new home, and not the lagging assessed value. Waah and boo. More.