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ISSUE 10.31
Aug. 05, 2011

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

Index

News :
State avoids fully funding education
Legislative Agenda :
August retreat
Radar Screen :
Flat as a pancake
Palmetto Politics :
Tax-free weekend
Commentary :
Fiddling with election law isn't helpful
Spotlight :
South Carolina Hospital Association
My Turn :
A top 10 list on the debt ceiling
Feedback :
Want to vent a little?
Scorecard :
Two up, two in the middle, three down
Stegelin :
A whiter shade of pale
Number of the Week :
$960,000,000
Megaphone :
"A hungry baby in a topless bar"
Encyclopedia :
Battle of Parker's Ferry ended Tory threat in region
In our other publications :
Learn more about Charleston

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$960,000,000

That’s how much the state’s graduating class of high school seniors has earned in scholarships for college, an all-time high. More.

MEGAPHONE

"A hungry baby in a topless bar"

"And such news of an amicable settlement having made this Court happier than a tick on a fat dog because it is otherwise busier than a one legged cat in a sand box and, quite frankly, would have rather jumped naked off of a twelve foot step ladder into a five gallon bucket of porcupines than have presided over a two week trial of the herein dispute, a trial which, no doubt, would have made the jury more confused than a hungry baby in a topless bar and made the parties and their attorneys madder than mosquitoes in a mannequin factory."
 
-- From a July 19 order by Kenton, Ky., Circuit Judge Martin J. Sheehan on a civil case.  More.

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Battle of Parker's Ferry ended Tory threat in region

During the summer of 1781, Tories roved the countryside surrounding Charleston. Patriot colonel William Harden commanded a dwindling militia force south of the Edisto River and requested assistance from Brigadier General Francis Marion to counter this threat.

Arriving at the village of Round "O" on Aug. 22, Marion, pictured at left, set out to gather intelligence. He learned that a force of one hundred Tories under Colonel William "Bloody Bill" Cunningham was assembling on the banks of the Pon Pon River (present-day Edisto River) to join a larger body of British and Hessian regulars and Loyalist militiamen. Marion quickly prepared an ambush to prevent the juncture.

On Aug. 30 the patriot force took position in the thick woods of a swamp about forty yards from the road and within a mile of Parker's Ferry. A few light horsemen were sent forward as decoys. As the British force approached in the late afternoon, a Tory sentry noticed a white cockade - the mark of Marion's men -- in a soldier's cap in the woodline. Musket fire was exchanged, and the horsemen charged, forcing the Tories back toward the ferry.

From a distance, British lieutenant colonel DeBorck watched the engagement and ordered Major Thomas Fraser to charge with his dragoons. Fraser's men galloped blindly into the trap. As the British cavalrymen came abreast of the American position, they received several volleys of fire. Low on ammunition, Marion withdrew when a column of enemy infantrymen arrived on the scene. British losses were estimated at about twenty-five killed and eighty wounded, with minimal harm to Marion's force. This small but effective engagement checked the British cavalry and put a stop to the marauding of the Tories so that they never posed a threat in the region again.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Samuel K. Fore. 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

Learn more about Charleston

If you want to read some good news and views involving Charleston, take a look at CharlestonCurrents.com, our sister publication.  In the most recent two issues, you'll learn about cancer prevention, perspective on Tropical Storm Emily, a top 10 list on the debt ceiling, Charleston's choirs, the differences between Charleston and New Orleans, and much, much more.
 
If you want to get the latest daily news about South Carolina, consider SCClips.com.

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

State avoids fully funding education

By Bill Davis, senior editor

AUG. 5, 2011 – Comprehensive and sensible public education reform could benefit, or be the victim of, competing political agendas in the days ahead.

South Carolina has always struggled with the confluence of education and money, from the time of slavery until modern times. And the 2011-12 school year will be no different based on trends.

In hopes of better competing with regional, national, and international school systems, South Carolina’s legislature in 1977 passed a series of funding bills to funnel money into schools and maintain funding on a per-pupil basis, also known as base student funding.

How has that gone over the past 10 years? Does the word “rollercoaster” ring a bell? Despite claims by legislators that education was cut last and “held harmless” in recent years, the hard numbers tell a different story.

State law requires the General Assembly to fund school districts at roughly $2,700 per-student for the current school and fiscal year, according to state officials. But, the legislature, making use of special one-year temporary laws called provisos, has routinely skirted funding the full amount.

How far off? The actual per-pupil amount this year is $1,880, according to the state Department of Education, with even less in recurring funding. In other words, the base student allocation is roughly one-third off.

According to Jay W. Ragley, the former executive director of the S.C. Republican Party and now the deputy superintendent of legislative and public affairs for the state Department of Education, the base student cost stipend only represents about half of what the state contributes to school districts.

Ragley, who served as Superintendent of Education Mick Zais’s campaign manager, also said per-pupil funding is merely one of roughly 50 lines of funding that state public schools receive.

And 2011-12 was far from the only year the proviso dodge has come into play, as per-pupil funding has bounced up and down, apparently tied to statewide and national economics. (See chart.)

Currently, the per-pupil funding is on par with actual dollar amounts from the 1998-99 budget. And the total amount of education funding from the state’s General Fund,  which doesn’t include federal pass-through dollars, dropped to $1.8 billion last year in 2010-11. (See pages 60 and 61 of this report.)  That represented a nearly $300-million cut from the previous year, and is on par with state appropriations from 10 years ago -- before the dot-com bubble burst was completely felt.

So what’s the solution?

Ragley said Zais has consistently championed “simplifying and streamlining” the myriad of funding sources recombined and doled-out to school districts, while at the same time giving districts the flexibility to direct how that money would be spent.

Ragley was also quick to point out that Zais did not include programs like special education in the flexibility category, as federal laws regarding funding it preempted the state’s ability to shift funding priorities.

State Rep. Phil Owens (R-Easley), a close philosophical and political ally of Zais and chair of the House Education and Public Works Committee, wants simplification to be a legislative priority with the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Owens praised the unsuccessful efforts of former House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper of Piedmont, who retired from the legislature in July, to overhaul public education funding. Owens said he hoped Cooper’s idea of weighting the formula for student poverty and special needs, as well as an index for taxpayers’ ability to contribute to their school district.

Scott Price, lobbyist and lead lawyer for the S.C. School Board Association, applauded the idea of simplifying education funding, but pointed out that school districts already have a significant amount of spending flexibility.

Price, who is paid to advocate on behalf public education, said he saw the paucity and the up-and-down nature of per-pupil funding as a bellwether of other state priorities.

“If we’re a decade behind in school funding, then we better take a look at the conditions of our state roads, and the number of law enforcement officers we have patrolling them.”

This was far from the first year that Jackie B. Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association, became frustrated with legislators for skirting the law they passed to set per-pupil spending. She said the legislature ought to follow its own legislation or write a new law to solve the ongoing problems.

“In our state, leadership has not done a good job of putting public education first,” Hicks said. “Provisos have depleted everything,” which, she said, was especially damaging in a state with such a high ratio of children depending on school-based free and reduced price lunch and breakfast programs.

One answer:  Repeal Act 388

Both Price and Hicks agreed that one simple solution would be to do away with Act 388, the state law that switched primary funding for school districts away from property taxes on owner-occupied homes to a statewide sales tax increase just in time for the Great Recession to hit.

They also noted the limited chances of that happening, agreeing that the law still made political sense at the expense of fiscal dollars and cents.

Both also agreed that with a reported $2.7 billion of existing sales tax exemptions still sitting on the table, there was ample money available to the state to quickly solve its education funding woes.

But Owens and Zais’s camp were talking more about simplifying how the money is funneled to schools, not simply sending schools more money.

Crystal ball:  Failure to act on the voluminous Taxation Realignment Commission final report this year showed how little interest the General Assembly has in affecting major taxation changes. And with next year being an election year and the dominant perception being that an exemption removed is a new tax created, there may be no simple answer to improving state school funding issues.

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

Legislative Agenda

August retreat

The Education Oversight Committee will take a one-day informational retreat Monday beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the S.C. Archives and History Center on Parklane Road in Columbia to discuss a long list of issues, ranging from PASS testing to the role of higher education. More.

Radar Screen

Flat as a pancake

With an election year looming, and the tea party enjoying its moment in the sun, look for flat tax initiatives to rear their overly-simplistic heads next year.

Palmetto Politics

Tax-free weekend

Just after midnight on Thursday, South Carolina declared open season on shopping with its 12th annual tax-free weekend. Meant to spur retail sales and reduce back-to-school costs on families, the weekend is highlighted by state suspending its 6-percent sales tax on a long list of school items. Hopes are that retailers this year, with a mild economic recovery underway, will enjoy a resurgent weekend and higher sales than last year.

 

Primary season

 

Reports out of Tampa where the Republican National Committee just met  were that “rogue” states like Arizona may ignore admonishments from the national GOP and hold whenever-they-want, early presidential primaries.

 

That’s a problem for South Carolina, which has historically held one of the earliest primaries in the Republican sphere. States have made a mad scramble for first primary in recent presidential elections in hopes of raising their electoral profile or, in the case of Arizona’s ongoing fight with the federal government over immigration and border security, gain national momentum on specific issues. South Carolina may have to adjust its primary date to earlier in the campaign season if Arizona doesn’t relent.

 

Civil rights hero passes away

 

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Perry died this week just short of a well-lived 90 years.

 

The first black federal judge in the Deep South who won big cases for the NAACP before taking the bench, Perry was praised for his warm personal side as much as what he did for his country and state. In lasting tribute to his legacy, the federal courthouse in Columbia is named in his honor.

Commentary

Fiddling with election law isn't helpful

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

AUG. 5, 2011 -- Since 2003, the S.C. General Assembly has approved measures that allowed 34 of the state's 46 counties to reshape, rename or reconfigure precinct lines.

 Generally when that's done, officials point to a state law that says precincts need to be changed when they get bigger than 1,500 voters. They say there's nothing nefarious about it.

But in some of the state's larger counties, you've got to wonder if reshaping precincts because of growth is the driving force behind line changes. Why? Because when precincts change or get new names, voters have to be notified of the change. Some become confused on election day about where they're supposed to vote. In the end, some give up because they find it too tough to vote. 

Confusion certainly reigns in Horry and Kershaw counties, both of which have reshaped precincts five times since 2003. In Kershaw, the maps changed every year from 2006 to 2010. In Lexington and York counties, lines changed four times since 2003. Aiken, Georgetown, Spartanburg and Greenville counties each had three precinct map changes over the last nine years.

Fiddling with election law is nothing new in South Carolina or any state. It's part of the process. In fact, every 10 years with the Census, the Constitution requires new lines to be drawn to better reflect where people live, as witnessed in the just-passed 2011 reapportionment sent in late July to the U.S. Justice Department for preclearance. (The federal Voting Rights Act requires preclearance of changes before they go into effect to ensure that S.C.'s historic voting wrongs are righted.)

But there seems to be a growing push by conservative forces nationally to mold state election laws in new ways to chill voter behavior. Witness South Carolina's new voter identification law, which opponents say will keep hundreds of thousands of people -- mostly Democrats -- from the polls because they don't have state IDs or won't bother to get them. The contrived reason for requiring new IDs for voting -- the possibility of voter fraud, which has happened less in South Carolina than the number of fingers on your hand. Simply put, the new voter ID law is a new barrier to voting for many, a modern-day poll tax created to obfuscate.

A new article in The Nation magazine ("Rigging Elections") exposes a national effort by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative-funded, limited-government, pro-business think tank, to craft one-size-fits-all model legislation for state lawmakers to introduce in their states. That's just what happened here with voter ID. It was a legislative proposal from outsiders pushed successfully, just like it was the backbone of similar legislation in Wisconsin, Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. The measure has been introduced in two dozen other states.

According to the article by John Nichols: "ALEC's goal is to influence not just state politics but also the 2012 presidential race. ... It just wants the rules to be set by CEOs, campaign donors and conservative legislators. Restricting voting and direct democracy while ensuring that corporations can spend freely on campaigning makes advancing the conservative agenda a while lot easier."

ALEC's model legislation, which is restricted to members, covers a lot of ground, which you can tell by the titles of the organization's offerings. Among the election-related model legislation that you might see soon here: Opposition to taxpayer-financed election, ballot initiative reform, restricting random sampling, opposing a national popular vote interstate compact and support of unlimited corporate money in campaigns.

But the group doesn't stop with just elections. It offers conservative bills ready to be introduced on everything from reform of the bail system, laxer firearms laws and prison privatization to more tort reform, changing business rules to favor corporations, making life tougher for unions and school choice. The list seems endless.

Bottom line: South Carolina's leaders need to decide for themselves what needs to be done for the state in voting, elections or any issue before it. Legislators should focus on what matters to South Carolina, not outside groups and their agenda. And they should stop fiddling with the election process.

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

South Carolina Hospital Association

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 Hospital Association, the Palmetto State's foremost advocate on healthcare issues affecting South Carolinians. The mission of SCHA is to support its members in addressing the healthcare needs of South Carolina through advocacy, education, networking and regulatory assistance.

Founded in 1921, the South Carolina Hospital Association is the leadership organization and principal advocate for the state’s hospitals and health care systems. Based in Columbia, SCHA works with its members to improve access, quality and cost-effectiveness of health care for all South Carolinians. The state’s hospitals and health care systems employ more than 70,000 persons statewide. SCHA's credo: We are stronger together than apart. To learn more about SCHA and its mission, go to: http://www.scha.org.
My Turn

A top 10 list on the debt ceiling

A good friend in Charleston -- a fellow with perhaps with a bit too much time on his hands -- came up with this amusing list about the end of the federal debt ceiling crisis.  We thought you would enjoy.

10. We can re-focus on important issues like allowing cruise ships and their passengers to spend money in Charleston.

9. Proves miracles can happen; Pelosi, McConnell, Reid, Boehner and Obama actually agree on something.

8. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will not have to break open the piggy bank stored under his desk.

7. Important federal work can continue, such as the National Labor Relations Board review of Boeing.

6. Chinese lessons haven't gotten us far enough along to respond to the Chinese calling their notes on the U.S. Treasury.

5. Now we can redirect our attention to The Weather Channel and our seasonal offerings of storm drama.

4. The American government can leave the American Express card at home.

3. Nowhere to go but up: American opinion of Congress likely to improve from its 2% approval rating of the crisis management.

2. Chinese restaurants will NOT be allowed to start charging for fortune cookies.

1. Both Democrats and Republicans can take their August un-deserved recess. Their bosses, the American people, would like to insist on LEAVE WITHOUT PAY.

Have a top 10 list on a South Carolina subject?  Send it along to:  brack@statehousereport.com.

Feedback

Want to vent a little?

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.
Scorecard

Two up, two in the middle, three down

Jail. The main jail for the Charleston area installed an array of solar panels that could save three times in power what the panels initially cost. Looks like jail can capture more than crooks. More.

College. Five universities in South Carolina – Wofford, College of Charleston, Clemson, USC, and Furman – made the Princeton Review’s best colleges list for 2012. It’s a verrrrry long list. More.

LAC. The Legislative Audit Council found problems with how Clemson, as well a state agency that provides services to babies, handle their respective jobs. Problems are bad, but we can’t fix’em if we don’t know about them. More on Clemson | More on Babynet.

Credit. Moody's, one of the nation's most influential credit-rating houses, today reaffirmed South Carolina's AAA credit rating, which means interest rates on the state's loans could stay stagnant.  But it gave the state a negative future review, just as it gave the federal government, due to ongoing national credit issues.

Unemployment. South Carolina’s slashing of unemployment benefits during the economic crisis is getting national attention, criticism. More. 

Duke. The Charlotte-based power company, which provides electricity to big chunks of South Carolina, enjoyed $441million income for the second quarter of the year alone, but is asking for a rate increase. More. 

Tourism. The Great Recession (surprise!) negatively affected the state’s tourism industry’s bottom-line to the tune of about $1 billion annually. More.

Stegelin

A whiter shade of pale


Also from Stegelin: 7/29 | 7/22 | 7/15 | 7/8
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/.