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ISSUE 10.15
Apr. 15, 2011

RECENT ISSUES:
12/04 | 11/27 | 11/20 | 11/13

Index

News :
Addition by subtraction
Legislative Agenda :
House off, Senate on tort reform
Radar Screen :
Amazonian battle
Palmetto Politics :
Hat in hand, rhetoric in check
Commentary :
Making the unimportant important
Spotlight :
S.C. Chamber of Commerce
My Turn :
Apply same rules to Amazon as everyone else
Feedback :
League applauds Toal for civics education
Scorecard :
Not much good news
Stegelin :
Families
Megaphone :
One way or another
Encyclopedia :
Magnolia Cemetery
In our other publications :
Lots happening in Charleston

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$8,500

That’s how much less a woman working full-time makes annually than a man in South Carolina, according to a recently released study. More.

MEGAPHONE

One way or another

“Those opposed to the (health care reform) act don't want the federal government to force a system on South Carolina. The irony is that, by all accounts, their actions ensure the feds will come in and implement a federal health benefits exchange in January 2014.”

-- Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg), author of a bill in the House that would create an independent state health care exchange where citizens could buy health plans. More.

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Magnolia Cemetery

Overlooking the Cooper River north of Charleston, Magnolia Cemetery was established in 1850. An excellent example of the rural cemeteries then popular in mid-nineteenth-century America, it followed the example of such cemeteries as Mount Auburn near Boston, Laurel Hill near Philadelphia, and Green-Wood near New York City.

The graves of the crew of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley can be found at Magnolia Cemetery. Photo by Tony Smith, SCV Camp 38, North Charleston.

Magnolia Cemetery, described at its dedication as a "spot most precious to the musing hour," was designed by the Charleston architect Edward C. Jones. It features family plots surrounded by stone coping or cast-iron fences; winding streets and paths with cast-iron benches; ornamental trees and shrubs such as magnolias, live oaks, cedars, and hollies; a small lake; and a vista of the marsh and the nearby river. Gravestones include marble or granite tablets, ledgers, box-tombs, tomb-tables, obelisks, and pedestal-tombs, as well as several prominent mausoleums.

Among the most striking monuments are the Elbert P. Jones Monument (1853), designed by the architect Francis D. Lee; the Vanderhorst Mausoleum (1856), an elaborate Egyptian-revival structure; the Colonel William Washington Monument (1858), designed by the architect Edward Brickell White and sculpted by William T. White and featuring a fluted column with a rattlesnake coiled around it; and the Defenders of Charleston Monument (1882), the focal point of the Confederate section. The cemetery also features many fine examples of work by the White brothers of Charleston - William, Edwin, and Robert - perhaps the most prolific and accomplished stonecutters of nineteenth-century South Carolina. Their stones, often cut from imported Italian marble, are notable for their distinctive lettering and remarkably detailed carving.

Some of the prominent South Carolinians buried here include the antebellum industrialist William Gregg, the U.S. senator and secessionist Robert Barnwell Rhett, the author and poet William Gilmore Simms, the merchant and secretary of the Confederate States Treasury George Alfred Trenholm, and Confederate generals James Conner, Micah Jenkins, Arthur M. Manigault, and Roswell S. Ripley. Captain Horace L. Hunley and the second crew of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley are also interred in Magnolia Cemetery.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Tracy Power. 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.)

IN OUR OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Lots happening in Charleston

People all over the state love visiting Charleston.  Here are some interesting pieces published this week in Charleston Currents, a sister publication.

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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YOUR COMMENTARY SOUGHT

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News

Addition by subtraction

The tax break that could cost $2 billion

By Bill Davis, senior editor

APRIL 15, 2011 -- State public education could be missing out on close to $2 billion in state funding over the next 12 years if a bill winding its way through the General Assembly becomes law.

The Education Opportunity Act seeks to hand out state income tax credits to families with kids in private schools equal to half of the state’s contribution in per-pupil funding, or roughly $2,000 a year per kid.

The bill cleared subcommittees in the House and Senate this week and will be introduced to their respective full committees next week.  It’s unclear whether they will make it out of committee before June.

The bills, as currently written, basically call for phased-in tax credits over several years, eventually costing $133 million a year to public education, according an impact study recently released by the state’s chief economist, William Gillespie.

All of the reductions over the next 12 years, according to Gillespie’s report, could result in a total reduction of $850 million in state funding.

Supporters of the bill, like co-sponsor Sen. Lee Bright (R-Roebuck) whose children attend public schools, said parents of children in failing schools would be assisted in finding a better school for their children, which would increase choices for that family.

Bright also said there would be savings to public school districts because they would still receive half of the state’s per-pupil contribution for students they didn’t have to educate.

Cost would be high

Harry Miley, the former head of the state’s Board of Economic Advisors under Gov. Carroll Campbell, thinks the $850 million falls short of the full ramification of the bill’s potential impact.

Miley, an economist who spoke before a House Ways and Means subcommittee this week, said close inspection of the Gillespie report showed schools would also be hit with an estimated $1.1 billion total reduction due to lower student headcounts. 

Fewer kids and less money would double up to close to $2 billion over a 12-year period, according to Miley, who doubted that anything short of a “mass exodus” of students to private schools would result in any real savings.

For example, the loss of, say, only two kids per classroom wouldn’t change what a district would have to shell out for teacher salaries, building costs and maintenance, and other hard costs, Miley said. “The school district would just be out $4,000 for the two kids.”

Bright argued the $133 million taken out in the final year of the 12-year run of the bill would be a small portion of the state’s total K-12 public education pot. This year, according to the state Office of State Budget, General Fund appropriations for public schools were roughly $1.83 billion.

Bright said citizen opponents of the bill had legitimate concerns, but “from the outside, opposition from within the public education community looks more like a fear of competition.”     

Bright also said that overall per-pupil funding in his home county would drop only 22 percent because of the larger amount of local dollars contributed to education.

Policy would be a mistake, Neal says

But any cut at all to education would be a mistake, according to Rep. Joe Neal (D-Hopkins).

“We shouldn’t be talking about any cuts to public education until we can make sure that every child across the state has the opportunity to an adequate education,” he said, referencing the wide swaths of the state where poverty and lower academic achievement walk hand-in-hand.

“This is the same old, retread argument for smaller government we’ve been hearing for years,” said Neal, referencing former Gov. Mark Sanford’s call for school vouchers dating back top 2003. “They just want to take money out of our schools and put public money into private pockets.” 

Neal said supporters, like Bright, should be criticized for trying to shrink government at the expense of poor children “while benefitting the wealthiest private schools in the state.”

Neal wondered what good a $2,000 income tax credit would do for a family whose taxable income was under $35,000 a year and couldn’t afford to send their kids to private schools.

Bright said the bill would help those poorer families through church-based schools, where tuitions were already lower than traditional private schools and expansion of services would be easy because of existing unused Sunday school classrooms.

Neal and Bright also differ philosophically on whether education is an individual or a societal benefit. Bright argued that it’s more of an individual benefit, where everyone can attend public schools for free, but are taxed later in life to pay off that debt.

Neal takes the position that education shouldn’t be fee-based, that a better-educated society should be seen as a benefit to all, like good roads.

Crystal ball: Bright knows this year isn’t likely to be the year the Educational Opportunity Act gains real traction. But next year, both Neal and Bright agreed, will see the real battle over what might be the next step in school choice or the next step down the slipper slope to school vouchers.

Bill Davis, editor of Statehouse Report, can be reached at:  editor@statehousereport.com.
Legislative Agenda

House off, Senate on tort reform

The House will be on furlough next week. And the Senate will be finishing up (finally) with tort reform. After that, there are two items that stand out on the Senate’s special order agenda -- voter I.D. and outlawing political action committees.

Last week, Statehouse Report published a laundry list of bills the House had sent to the Senate, and was still waiting for their return. This week, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) was asked what the House was dragging its heels on, and he said “none.” According to McConnell, the House is “like a racetrack” where anything can get passed. “In the Senate, it’s about quality, not quantity,” he said.

Radar Screen

Amazonian battle

Both sides in the fight to provide or block a massive state sales tax breaks for an Amazon facility in the Columbia area are far from over.

The company, wanting the state to make good on promises made by the outgoing Sanford regime, has launched and ad campaign, while foes in the legislature are massing [see My Turn below], spurred by calls they’ve obviously received from other retailers who don’t want to see their online adversary get a leg up. This issue could become an important issue in how Gov. Nikki Haley handles commerce in the state for the next three-plus years.

Palmetto Politics

Hat in hand, rhetoric in check

Two of state government’s most vocal critics on transparency and spending, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom and Treasurer Curtis Loftis, went before a Senate budget subcommittee this week to ask for (gasp!) more money for their respective budgets.

The response? Terse is a good word, according to witnesses. Loftis asked for the bigger increase, citing a need to fulfill his campaign promise to conduct a thorough audit of his office, and Eckstrom said he needed four more employees. Eckstrom took the brunt of the needling, being told by one senator that he was tired of Eckstrom’s letters appearing in his local newspaper that chastized state government. The panel took the official’s requests and adjourned.

Roll-call voting

Gov. Nikki Haley is calling passage of a roll-call vote this week a victory for transparency. Others are calling it no big deal.

Haley advocated for more transparent votes on the floor of the House when she served there for six years. Opponents complained that what Haley asked for, recorded votes on more matters, amounted to a waste of the legislature’s time, especially during budget debate.

But a victory for her in the gubernatorial race and strong showings nationally for Tea Party candidates has the legislature whistling a different tune this year. Some still grumble that existing rules in the House and Senate call for more transparency already, and that the new law does nothing to solve any of the state’s most pressing problems – jobs and education.

Voter I.D.

The House and the Senate have passed versions of a bill that would require voters to present photo identification before being allowed to vote. And both chambers have shot down the other’s version. This week, the House approved a voter I.D. bill that didn’t include a provision for more expansive early voting, a key issue in the Senate version. The Senate summarily voted down that version.

It seems that now the best chance for a voter I.D. bill, decried mightily as racist by many Democrats in the Statehouse, to pass will be in a conference committee later this session.

He’s back

Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) won a special election to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), after he defeated John Spratt last fall. Gregory served in the legislature for 16 years before retiring two years ago.

Commentary

Making the unimportant important

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

APRIL 15, 2011 – Gov. Nikki Haley is already shucking and jiving, grinning and spinning about what a great job she is doing for the state of South Carolina. But is she really?

On the eve of her 100th day as governor, Haley’s actual accomplishments are far fewer than what she would have you believe. If you put stock in the spin machine, you would think that signing a bill to require recorded budget votes was as important as firing the shots on Fort Sumter. 

“We have changed the face of South Carolina forever,” Haley trumpeted at a transparency bill-signing event. 

Hogwash. This hullabaloo over transparency in government is a false issue. Major budget votes have been recorded for years. Most of the ones Haley has been so ginned up about were noncontroversial measures, many of which traditionally pass unanimously. Anyone willing to witness with the oft tedious process of crafting laws would know it’s hard to hide anything because the law requires legislative meetings to be in full public view.

The governor’s office is touting more than two dozen accomplishments in Haley’s first 100 days. Some of them are a big deal, such as “protecting the taxpayers” by resolving deficits at the departments of Corrections and Social Services. Or working with the legislature to sign into law a measure that will reform what Medicaid providers are paid. Or creating the Office of Inspector General by executive order.

Other reforms are squishier. She’s lauding passage by the S.C. House of a bunch of bills, such as a long-awaited bipartisan effort on a new Department of Administration, spending caps and tort reform. But in truth, these are only half accomplishments, because the Senate hasn’t approved them. (A cynic might say a bill making the rutabaga the new state vegetable would pass the House because it will approve almost anything.) But no matter, the spin machine has to keep going.

Other “accomplishments” are from left field:


  • “Occupancy rates are up” – Huh? How did the governor accomplish that?
  • “Unemployment dropped a third time in a row” – Is that Haley, or the slowly recovering economy and things done over time that are coming to fruition?

Nikki Haley deserves credit for appointing grown-ups for the departments of Commerce and Corrections, but taking credit for having a peaceful leadership change at the Budget and Control Board is a little over the top. Her aggressive ambition to build a national profile is already wearing thin.

A leading GOP consultant, who asked not to be identified, said Haley’s first 100 days were disappointing: “Too much pettiness, too much time spent on things that don’t improve the citizens’ lives.  Transparency is important, but at the end of the day, jobs are what will get her re-elected.”

Democratic state Sen. Phil Leventis of Sumter made a joke about it: “She’s done something that physicists have been confounded about for years -- she’s created matter in the form of issues that have no substance, and then made them have substance. … She is just obsessed with creating an image and creating spin and, as such, has not gotten really anything done for the state.”

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, described Haley’s tenure so far as a “mixed bag” with most of progress being on measures like transparency that were “low-hanging fruit, stuff everyone pretty much wanted to do anyway.” 

Haley supporter Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, told Statehouse Report the governor had done a good job setting the agenda in the legislature.

"Bills are going through committees without delay,” said Davis, a former chief of staff to Gov. Mark Sanford. “I can't wait to see how she does over the next few months on the way to the finish line. Her leadership and her message have been clear and energetic.”

On balance, Haley has had some successes in her first 100 days. But the “join the movement” championing of a cult of personality and promotion of process over substance are troubling. If Haley would use her rhetorical skills and political abilities to really work at getting people jobs, she could go down in history as a great governor. Until she looks at more than a mirror, she doesn’t get an A on any report card.

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

 
Spotlight

S.C. Chamber of Commerce

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. As the premier advocacy organization in the state, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce will serve as the unified business voice for promoting an economy of increased productivity and per capita income to achieve global competitiveness. Our work includes efforts to decrease business costs and increase productivity; build a highly-skilled, capable workforce; nurture entrepreneurial development; foster a favorable climate among our members and their employees; and Improve quality of life for all South Carolinians. For more, go to: www.scchamber.net.

My Turn

Apply same rules to Amazon as everyone else

By Brian Flynn
South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness
Special to Statehouse Report

APRIL 15, 2011 -- President John Adams once said that we are a nation of laws, not men. What he meant was that our laws apply equally to all – lawmakers don’t give those whom they favor a special deal over others. Unfortunately, some South Carolina lawmakers want to undermine that notion by exempting one company from collecting and remitting the same sales taxes that every other business in the state collects. This type of political favoritism must be stopped. 

Yesterday, a group of South Carolina elected officials introduced legislation that would give mega, online-retailer Amazon.com a special deal, and exempt them from collecting and remitting sales taxes in South Carolina. Should this legislation become law, it would be an affront to Main Street businesses in South Carolina that provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Palmetto State. 

This is an issue of fundamental fairness. If a retailer has a physical presence in South Carolina, it has to collect sales taxes on goods sold in the state, period. 

Amazon.com is building a distribution center in Lexington County. According to the State Department of Revenue, if an out-of-state business has a “distribution house” or warehouse in South Carolina, it has to collect the state’s sales tax. Amazon.com wants to be treated differently from every other business in the state, though. It wants state law changed so that it won’t have to collect or remit sales taxes. This is in addition to the many incentives already provided to them by our state officials. 

Amazon.com wants us to believe they were promised something, but the contract reached with the previous administration clearly states there was no guarantee concerning the sales tax. Furthermore, a governor has no standing to promise anything concerning the sales tax as the executive branch doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally change state law. Irrespective of that, Amazon.com started building the distribution center and is bullying our legislators to support a state law giving it a sales tax exemption, claiming that the state needs to “live up to its promise.”

I have no doubt that Amazon.com has the best lawyers money can buy and they know nothing was promised, yet they continue to promote a complete falsehood hoping if they repeat it enough times it will become true. Well, the small businesses that are the backbone of South Carolina’s economy know nothing was promised and they oppose a special deal that will force them to lay workers off, or worse yet, close altogether.

Our South Carolina businesses collect sales taxes, so why should their online competitor be exempt from doing the same thing? 

Our state should welcome competition. That’s the way the free market system works and we all benefit from it. Competition should be fair, though. If brick-and-mortar companies collect sales taxes, Amazon.com should collect sales taxes. If Amazon.com wants to build a business in South Carolina, it should play by the rules that apply to every other business in the state. There should be no special favors for one online giant. 

Our state is in the midst of a budget crisis, and our elected officials are working to close that gap. We simply can’t afford this greedy attempt by Amazon.com to secure a special deal at the expense of retailers that employ nearly 400,000 South Carolinians.

If collecting the state’s sales tax is too heavy a burden for Amazon, then it’s too heavy a burden for every business in the state. If South Carolina wants to exempt Amazon.com from collecting the sales tax, it should exempt every other business in the state as well. At the end of the day, the rules should be applied equally so our hometown employers can compete on a level playing field. 

Bryan Flynn is the spokesman for the South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness (SCAMSF).

Feedback

League applauds Toal for civics education

To Statehouse Report:

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina congratulates Chief Justice Jean H. Toal of the South Carolina Supreme Court on her receipt of the inaugural National Center for State Courts “Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education.”  The award was established in 2010 to honor an organization, court or person who has promoted, inspired, improved or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education.

We applaud Chief Justice Toal’s efforts to bring civics education into classrooms for South Carolina students.  Through her support for programs such as the “iCivics” web-based interactive civics education program; the “Justice Case Files” educational graphic novel series; the Class Action Program, which brings middle- and- high school students to the state Supreme Court to hear oral arguments; the Case of the Month Program, which provides streaming video of a case argued before the state Supreme Court; and the South Carolina Supreme Court Institute, which is held for middle- and high-school social studies teachers to teach them how to bring law to life for their students, Justice Toal enriches our students’ understanding of their government and enables them to be better-informed citizens.

Civics education is central to the mission of the League of Women Voters.  Since 1920, our organization has encouraged informed and active participation in government, working to increase citizen understanding of and influence on major public policy issues through education and advocacy.  For the last ten years, the League of Women Voters Education Fund has focused on educating citizens about our nation’s system of separation of powers and highlighting the vital need for protecting a fair and independent judiciary.

Last fall, the LWVSC launched a statewide civic education campaign that aims to promote transparency, independence, and diversity in the South Carolina courts.  Through the next year and beyond, Leagues across the state will hold public education events, activities and programs that aim to increase public knowledge about the third branch of government.

We thank Justice Toal for her work to educate the public about our state’s justice system.

-- Barbara Zia, president, League of Women Voters of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Drop us a line.  We encourage you to share your opinions.  Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less.  Please include your name and contact information for verification purposes.
Scorecard

Not much good news

Game on. Businessman and political activist Phil Noble announced this week he would run for the chair of the S.C. Democratic Party. Former chair Dick Harpootlian announced his candidacy last week. Oh boy, a battle. More.

BEA. This week’s Board of Economic Advisors monthly meeting revealed indicators that showed South Carolina’s unemployment rate is down, while its payroll-withholding rate is also down, construction is still stagnate, and car and gas sales are up.

Ford. Will the real Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) please stand up?! Last week, Ford waved a Confederate flag and praised the Civil War. This week he resigned as the Legislative Black Caucus’ Affirmative Action Committee because some committee members supported a white candidate over the only black member of a state board. More.

Environment. The House voted to end a tax credit for hybrid car purchasers. More.

Stegelin

Families


Also from Stegelin: 4/8 4/1 3/25 3/183/11
credits

Statehouse Report

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

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2018 , 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/.