S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0828.unite.htm

President should unite America's spirit
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

AUG. 28, 2005 - - As thousands of Americans put their lives on the line in a brutal war in Iraq, millions of Americans at home appear casual and indifferent. The war is as much of a part of their lives as snow is to someone who lives in the Bahamas.

This American apathy is a symptom of a larger problem, a loss of the spirit of what it means to be American. Instead of the America of World War II that had a sense of shared sacrifice, today we have an America that is more obsessed with the shenanigans of pop stars. Instead of an America where hard work, inventiveness and experimentation pulled the country out of the Great Depression, we've now got an America that lets television drain away its creativity.

Unless something changes, we risk losing the America defined by a passionate commitment to freedom. Unless we're careful, we'll continue to slide toward an embarrassing sham America of hollow patriotic displays and poll-driven sound bites of self-interest. Instead of "We the People of the United States," we'll turn into millions of "Me the Person in the United States."

We can do better. We need a pick-me-up about what it is to be American. It's not the quaint America of fireworks and apple pie on July 4th. Instead, it's an America with a sense of shared commitment to freedom of all types fueled by an appreciation and respect for differences. It's an America where disparate parts make a whole country even stronger.


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To rekindle the American spirit, the country needs a national commitment from all her people to come together in new ways. We suggest a new national volunteerism program that won't increase the deficit, pull people apart or magnify partisan bickering.

It's time for Americans of all races, creeds and parties to take part in a Great Month of Success - - a month in which citizens give at least eight hours of volunteer time to make America stronger.

Imagine what could be done if 220 million American adults volunteered eight hours in one month to make things better. They could generate 1.8 billion - - yes, billion - - volunteer hours for public service. Even if only 10 percent of Americans participated in a Great Month of Success, American volunteers could do amazing things, such as:

  • Build 50,000 homes, based on 2,000 man-hours per home according to Habitat for Humanity.

  • Clean up 33,000 miles of beaches, rivers and roadways, based on the 30-man-hours per mile it takes to clean one mile of S.C. beach.
    " Spend time reading individually to the nation's 24.5 million students below fifth grade.

  • Talk about dreams with each of the nation's 33.7 million students from fifth to 12th grade. Youths in programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America reportedly are far less likely to skip school or start using drugs than those who aren't mentored.

  • Give blood. The nation's sick and injured need about 38,000 units of blood daily, according to the American Red Cross.

And there would still be almost 16 million volunteer man-hours left! Envision the good that could be done.

President Bush pledged to be a uniter, not a divider. To date, George W. Bush has been the ivory-billed woodpecker of American leaders - - you don't see him uniting, but you know he's there. So after a long summer vacation that should have helped to reinvigorate his spirit and second term, he should consider this new kind of unifying leadership to bring people together.

Imagine how Americans, challenged to do community service by our president, could join together with a sense of common purpose. Just think of how it would uplift the country's spirit.

All for eight hours of work from streams of Americans over a single month.

Mr. President, it's time to unite America. The country needs it.


8/26: At the pumps

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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8/24: Realistic assessment of problem

To the editor:

This letter is in response to your column printed in the Beaufort Gazette on August 22, 2005.

Having some experience on this subject, I would like to state that of all the articles I have read about the real property assessment system in the State of South Carolina, your realistic analysis of this problem is a voice in the wilderness. You obviously have more than a passing knowledge about this matter and it appears you have researched the article very well. Congratulations!

The Constitution of the State of South Carolina states that all property shall be assessed at "full" value. Courts have interpreted the word "full" as meaning "fair market value". In turn, that term can be defined as "the most probable selling price of a property (any property) under current market conditions". The key to any good real property assessment and taxation system is that it be fair to all taxpayers. In my opinion, the SC system fails to meet constitutional requirements and is not fair.

The process of determining an assessed value is primarily the comparable sale market comparison approach. In this approach, the assessor researches recent comparable sales similar to the property being assessed (appraised) and, after making adjustments for differences, arrives at what he/she considers to be a fair assessment of the market value of the property being assessed. Because assessors have to use comparable sales that have occurred in the past as appropriate data, any assessment system, regardless of how sophisticated it might be, can never achieve full values as of the date of the publishing of the assessment roll.

However, in South Carolina, the fact that assessment roles are created every five years serves only to compound the problem. This is my basis for stating the current practices create assessments that are so far away from "full" values during that five year time period that the five year practice constitutes a violation of the State Constitution. This is especially true in a rapidly rising markets that are currently appropriate to many sections of South Carolina.

Senator Glenn F. McConnell of Charleston has called the property tax "evil" and is currently holding hearings across the state. Senator David L. Thomas of Greenville has "declared war" on the property tax system. Both these gentlemen are attorneys and should know better. By holding these hearings and commiserating with appearing taxpayers, they are doing nothing more than pandering to the objecting taxpayers and setting the stage for their stated intent to do away with the property tax system. If successful, that would be an economic and fiscal disaster for South Carolina.

I would suggest the following steps, if followed, would actually provide a much more fair system than the existing one:

1 - Publish new assessment rolls annually rather than every five years,
2 - Separate the town, local and county taxes from the school taxes. State, County and local taxes could be
due in January, school taxes due in August or September, both using the same assessment roll,
3 - Due away with the $100,000 individual property exemption for school taxes. It is not fair to all taxpayers,
4 - No caps or maximum limits on assessed values. If a property is worth $2,000,000, assess it as such.

Investigate what other states have successfully done to re-vitalize their assessment practices. To conform a property tax system to taxpayers
desires id to invite disaster!

-- Richard J. Mullin, Asheville, N.C.

8/23: Alternative needed to property taxes

To the editor:

I do not agree with your assessment pertaining to property tax. I feel that property tax should be done away with. There should be some other alternatively to supply the needs for our schools, city government and county. I can remember when my family lost a lot of land because of the Depression and they could not pay their taxes. It is not fair for the government to hold my residential property for their benefit to get money. We pay a sufficient amount in state taxes and federal taxes to cover all the need of each government branch.

The biggest problem is that government waste our tax dollars on foolishness and not for the benefit of the taxpayer. I cannot understand how you can make a statement that property tax is fair. I have worked long and hard to buy my home and property. I have paid my share of taxes for over 30 years and I do not feel the government should have control over my property taxes. It seems to me that people who claim property tax is fair, do not pay any. It will not affect the economy to receive revenue on a sales tax basis, but it would alleviate property tax off of our homes and property. People will not stop purchasing what they need to sustain their livelihood. Governor Sanford needs to look after the taxpayer and not big business. Most of the taxes paid in South Carolina are by the working man and not the business. I suggest to the legislators to put a stop to property tax and stop wasting tax dollars.

The government should listen to the taxpayer and not to big business.

-- Dr. Erwin E. Lambert, Georgetown, S.C.

8/22: Commentary flawed

To the editor:

The flaw in your commentary is that for most people, real estate is not so much an investment but a necessity. Most people have just one real estate holding: their home. The alternative is to rent, but renters pay more when property taxes go up as well. Most people buy a home primarily to have a roof over their head, and choose to buy rather than rent in hopes that their housing expenditure can generate a little wealth. None-the-less, the investment consideration is secondary to their housing need. Their housing demands services from government and for that they have to pay taxes. I think the legitimate debate here is why local government spending is rising faster than the rate of the citizenry’s capacity to pay.

-- Michael E. Dey, Vice President of Government Affairs, South Carolina Association of REALTORS®, Columbia, S.C.

8/22: Missed the point on property tax

To the editor:

Your article about property tax was in this morning's Beaufort Gazette. Although I agree with you that property taxes are generally an indicator of increasing wealth amongst those taxed, I think you have missed the point as to the objections many of us have to the system in South Carolina.

My objection is not to the amount of property tax, per se, or to the fact that it increases significantly when reassessments only occur every five years. Instead, I object to the flaws in the assessment procedure itself and, additionally, to the way my the money is squandered by our local government entities, especially the Beaufort County school system. Here in Beaufort County, arguably the fastest growing county in the state, local government never saw a tax increase it didn't embrace. Planning is way behind the growth curve and in general the functionality of most local government here is straight out of 1958.

With very few exceptions, government officials don't hear our requests and demands that they change their modus operandi. Instead, they spend more and more money and keep going to the well (property owners) each time.

Just some thoughts for you to consider.

-- Rick Davenport, Dataw Island, S.C.

8/21: Property taxes too high

To the editor:

Interesting opinion piece. I grew up on Hilton Head Island, and now live and work here as a real estate broker. I know some people (school teachers & nurses) that are having to cash in on that so called wealth and move off island. Some of these homes were purchased long ago or even inherited. They don't want to move. Unfortunately they have no choice, their property taxes doubled or even tripled in one year and they can no longer afford to live where they call home. Yes the property tax rate is great for the GOVERNMENT (no doubt). a more interesting question is whether it is good for the PEOPLE, which is suppose to be purpose of our government.

-- Chris Walton, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

8/21: Not all homeowners are investors

To the editor:

After reading Mr. Brack's article on the irony of property tax increases, I just had to weigh in on the other side of this issue, which Mr. Brack fails to acknowledge or understand. Not all home owners are investors in real-estate. Some are just good old folks that purchased their retirement homes some years ago, and are living on a fixed income. The fact that they happen to have moved into what was once a lower valued property area that has since taken off in reappraised value, puts them is a very difficult position. I use in reference, the Forest Beach area of Hilton Head. Many residents moved into this area when Forest Beach was way in the back seat compared to the Plantations when it came to property values. They bought a little house that was in their budget and may have paid $1,000 per year or way less in property taxes. Now, today with property reassessment they are required to pay four or five times that much. When on a fixed income, where does that extra four or five thousand dollars come from?

The only options some have are to sell their property for some Developer to buy, tear down and build another near hotel size rental property. Meanwhile, the older resident may have made a substantial amount in appreciation, but where do they go from there. The house they had planned on living out their lives is gone. And everything else in the area has gone up too. So, many are forced to leave the area. I saw this exact thing happen in California, where elderly people were constantly forced from their life long houses because of continued property tax increases. Fortunately, California legislators came to their senses and put a cap on property taxes until those owners decided to sell on their own. Then, the houses were reappraised, and the new buyer knew in advance what tax costs he would be facing. This area of reappraising and raising taxes needs some real common sense applied when thinking that everyone who has a tax increase if so fortunate.

-- Gary Smith, Hilton Head Island, SC

8/21: Property taxes aren't fair

To the editor:

How can any one state that property taxes are fair in South Carolina . When the tax acessor does not need to be a high school graduate . He can say your 30 year home is worth the same as 5 new homes the same size around you. Iftwo homes were the same one new and one 30 years old and in need of repair , which one would you buy if the same price and the acessor said the are valued the same ? They will not except the appraisal of a liciened appraier.So you conveince me and our 40,000 members that it is fair. All the older retired people are loosing their homes . 22,000 peices of property were sold at tax sales last year and most were retired for years. That doesn't count the 1,000's that have sold their homes so they would not lose it.

-- David Whetsell, STOPTAX, Lexington S.C.

8/19: Taxes aren't meant to be fair

To the editor:

[Former House Speaker] Bob Sheheen was fond of saying that taxes were not meant to be fair; they were meant to raise money. He's right. Taking someone else's money to do something for other people is not fair; but it's the price of security and a civilized society. It should be a given to all but the hermits among us that taxes must be paid to provide services and amenities that citizens demand. So, if we want to talk about fair taxes, we should be concerned when one group or person pays a tax from which others are exempt. It is much fairer in my mind for everyone to pay $0.03 in sales tax than for some to pay $0.05 so that others pay nothing. Tax Commission figures in the late '80s and early to mid-'90s indicated that we could drop all exemptions, reduce the sales tax to $0.025, and raise the same amount of money. I personally believe that food, medical supplies, and perhaps a few other essentials that everyone has to have, should be exempt--but no more than that.

I hate to say this ... but you have said before that services must be taxed in order to realize the changes in the nature of business. If services were taxed, we probably could reduce the percentage of the tax a little more--or provide more for education and infrastructure.

Right in line with that is the resistance to taxing catalogue and internet purchases. The internet industry needs to be fostered and protected to reach it's potential? These commercial, virtual shopping centers have an advantage over shopowners which should not be. Sales taxes on catalogue and electronic purchases would further allow some more reduction or some more revenue enhancement.

Put me in line with those who have said for years that our entire tax structure needs to be re-evaluated. Over the last twenty years or so the burden of running our State and local governments has been shifted from the affluent to the middle class and from business to the individual...

Sorry to be so long. The guys talking about this tax reform--once again on a piecemeal basis--have never had to run a city or a county, I'll bet. I hope you and others will continue to talk about this. The problem is the property taxes due to SCHOOLS; and local governments cannot solve our SCHOOL problems.

-- Former S.C. state legislator, name withheld upon request.

Recent feedback:

Ahead on Medicaid again

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

8/14/05: 8/14/05: Medicaid plan looks risky, costly: "Some may admire the Sanford administration for trying to do something about Medicaid, but at this point, the proposal seems like it has too much of a chance of hurting the poor, elderly and children. They shouldn't be experimental subjects to test a Republican political theory...Go back to the drawing board. "

In the Charleston City Paper

8/24/05: Sanford wants the poor to develop more character by spending money they don't have: "What The Eye doesn’t get is that most of these fiscal conservative types who want to rid the nation of the menace of social programs characterize themselves as Christians. The Eye finds that they choose to ignore Christ’s essential directives to feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned when they rationalize their legislative aims by declaiming “choice” and “personal responsibility.” And as for Mark Sanford, mused The Eye, somebody needs to remind him that poverty is not a character flaw.


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Tenenbaum. We wish she wouldn't leave the state superintendent's office and we're disappointed she's not running, but she's leaving with grace. We wish her well.

BRAC. Shaw Air Force Base, McEntire and Fort Jackson fared well under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, although Charleston lost some jobs. Bottom line: The state didn't get hit hard at all, compared to a few years back.

Thumbs down

GOP. The Grand Old Party is already spreading rumors that Tenenbaum is going to run for governor against Sanford, even though she has said she's not. How Nixonian.

Graham. Guess who got fired from his DC radio job for saying Islam was a terrorist organization -- former SC radio commentator and current columnist Michael Graham. Good, although we doubt he'll lose any arrogance.

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