S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0911.gas.htm

NOTE: Our friends in high places tell us the best thing we can do to help victims of Hurricane Katrina is to donate money to the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. We encourage you to do so.

COMMENTARY
Gas prices put government services in a pickle
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

SEPT. 11, 2005 - - The high cost of gas is eating away at what government is doing.

While a random check of state and local governments showed they seemed to be continuing essential services, such as ambulance runs and school bus pick-ups, they’re curtailing or cutting back on things like selective traffic stops (good for speeders), travel, non-essential meetings, recycling programs and roadside mowing.

The gas crunch has put agencies in a pickle in our state, which spent $557 million on fuel in June 2005, compared to $257 million in August 1999, according to state figures.

State Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, whose Department of Education provides fuel for 5,000 buses that use 66,000 gallons a day, faced a dwindling supply before her team was able to negotiate for more fuel while Katrina-impacted pipelines were coming back online.

FEEDBACK POLICY

We encourage your feedback. If you'd like to respond to something in SC Statehouse Report, please send us an e-mail. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. One submission allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:

feedback@statehousereport.com

Still, because of rising prices, the department is paying up to 54 cents more per gallon than what was budgeted at $1.80 cents per gallon. She expects schools, which used more than 12 million gallons of fuel last year, will face a shortfall that could reach $4 million by June, a fact she is sharing monthly with state lawmakers.

“It’s not available in our budget,” she said. “They will have to help us with the overrun.”

Other agencies that aren’t as reliant on fuel may not have to seek extra help, but the high cost of fuel will have a long-term impact.

“They [gas prices] are killing us,” says State Corrections Director Jon Ozmint. “And, I suspect high prices will continue to punch a hole in our budget, even after supplies loosen-up.”

His department recently was down to a three-day supply of fuel. It has shut down all non-critical medical appointments and non-emergency transportation runs, including taking prisoners to court, he said.

The State Department of Agriculture, which uses some alternative fuels, is even “establishing a master calendar for travel schedules to help create more opportunities for carpooling,” said Commissioner Hugh Weathers.

At the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, officials have been asked to do more carpooling, limit meetings and cut travel. Staff members were even encouraged to take a day of leave when fuel prices looked bleakest, said Associate Director Cary Chamblee.

“The 50 percent increase of the past week, if sustained for much longer, will seriously affect our operations,” Chamblee said.

He reports staff members are taking orders to conserve seriously. Last weekend, for example, three wildlife officers monitoring a dove field near Hopkins on the opening day of the season arrived in one vehicle, instead of the usual vehicle per officer. Also, they walked through the field to check licenses, instead of driving through to spot-check hunters.

While taxpayers may have to be patient for some delivery of government services in the days ahead, the fuel crunch is at least doing one good thing: it is forcing agencies to look for more ways to conserve and do things it could have been doing for a long time to save money.

It also gives more incentives to state lawmakers, who may have to come up with as much as $10 million to help agencies weather the fuel crisis next year, to explore expanded use of alternative fuels and renewable energy.

As Albert Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For state government and taxpayers to continue to base our way of life on fossil fuels shows how vulnerable we are. It’s time to explore alternatives and for the state to provide the leadership to do so.

RECENT COMMENTARY


McLEMORE'S WORLD
9/11: Keeping your eye on the ball

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


LEARN MORE DAILY

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


FEEDBACK
9/6: Rant on property taxes

To the editor:

(Editor's note: Spelling errors not corrected.)

Talk about irony:The very folks that you did not mention in your special to the progress article on aug 31,"market is driving property taxes",the hundreds of thousands elderly citizens of South Carolina who have worked all thier lives to own thier homes. Most are on fixed incomes and cannot afford these property tax increases every five years. "So why all the moaning" you asked? It is because we have roots and we are not interested in selling our homes just for the increase in monatory value.But most of us,if we live long enough will do just that in order to pay the increased taxes every five years as our purchasing power continues to decline.If we don't the local tax collector won't hesitate to do it for us. The only answer to our problem is for the state legislature to replace all property taxes with the 2 percent sales tax plan.We may not be able to purchase everything we want but at least we won't be evicted from our homes. Our constituion begins with the phraze "We,the people".In our case that phraze has been replaced with "I,the assessor". With the sales tax plan we would no longer have a need for the "Office of assessor" nor the "Office of tax collector".The budgets of these offices could be combined and then multiplied by 46 counties which would be in the hundred of millions.That money should be turned over to the schools of each county in addition to the portion of property taxes they recieve now.This will solve much of the school funding problems we have now and we haven't raised taxes one cent. Additionally,you worried about sales tax as a business disincentive and would hurt s c merchants.You economists keep forgetting that business does not pay taxes.they just pass it on to thier custumers. I agree that the is a regressive tax hurts the low income but at least we won't lose our homes and other properties.The property tax cap is not an option for us either. As for Gov. Sanfords ideas about taxes,I hope he stays out of this one.His income tax reduction plan gave all the reductions to high income citizens. The fixed income citizens i am talking about did not recieve one penney of tax relief from his plan.

-- Alvin Jones, Easley, SC

9/5: Alternative energy is realistic

To the editor:

Thank you for your article (Commentary, 9/4) posted today in our Beaufort Gazette re: Alternative Energy. You have an excellent peripheral view of the myriad of opportunities from education to incentives for consumers and builders, for passive and active strategies and many other points all well taken. The problem is pay-back period. I mean pay-back, period. There is no source of honest or non-conflict of interest advertisement that can easily define or state what one average person should do and in which order of investment return.

We have a very simple solution to this problem; however, we are not the large power plants and oil companies with tremendous advertising clout. We are the coming inventors and future producers of special technologies that, if known now by people, would stop a tremendous waste of taxpayer investment in hydrogen and PV cells that the big companies want to promote. Worse, by throwing tax credits out to consumers to buy what ever is advertised with the most money simply perpetuates and bolsters this waste of assets that otherwise could be focused into mass-production of a new Model-E (E for energy alternative immediate investment return and mass-production on a one-color one-size fits all silver bullet).

You were exactly on target with the opportunity that SC has for (new jobs creation) new alternative energy ideas. Unfortunately, the engineers and electric producers (nuclear) have talked all of our academia into riches and fame for making SC the big nuclear power plant for the U.S. electric grid...S.C. the Great Nuclear State. Maybe, Andy, you will be the one new messenger who will not be swept up into the big cloud and will do a bit of investigation into a new approach or two that, with my 30 years of alternative energy investigation, will provide a much smarter and faster and more rewarding return on taxpayer investment for South Carolinians and all peoples everywhere: solar nuclear conversion.

Why on Earth would we spend billions of dollars of research on surface nuclear energy to make hydrogen when in just two years we could be selling inexpensive cars that will get 125 miles per gallon? Yes, this is true, and a Texas University owns the IP. I can show you how we can make one 10kW generator that will use solar heat and natural gas that will do all of your home power needs without grid tie-in at less than you are now paying from SCE&G. The same 10kW engine that will last decades on one oil change a year and can power (3) 5-ton heat pumps commercially on a 66% cycle-rate 24/7.

And, Andy, we can use solar nuclear to make refrigerated natural gas that will drive the new "Super Car" without pollution other than CO2, which can be reclaimed and sold to bottlers and green houses. You have no idea what I am talking about, but you have the intelligence to investigate and understand if you would just take the energy. I will be happy to personally intro you to the people and technologies that, if we ever get some help from someone such as yourself, we can show the honest and best means to global cooling & power.

-- Tom deTreville, Beaufort, SC

9/4: Way to serve is to drive slower

To the editor:

The first step is conservation and that is a 55 mph. For every gallon of
fuel we save across the board in America , we save 100 million barrels of
oil. More importantly we save lives ! Reduce injuries ! , lower insurance
costs, reduce our trade deficit, increase supply ,reduces cost and etc . A
small sacrifice by all . 55 mph This is a must !!! This is the easiest
thing to do right now !!!!!!

-- Samuel Tenenbaum, Lexington, SC

Recent feedback:

SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

Palmetto State residents. Big kudos to South Carolinians from all over for helping victims of Hurricane Katrina in myriad ways -- from offering jobs, helping clean-up efforts and cash donations.

PACT. The state generally continues to improve on scores on the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, but more needs to be done.

Smith. Former House Minority Leader James Smith has re-enlisted in the S.C. National Guard as an infantry officer, which means he may head to the Mideast.

Thumbs down

Sanford. Gov. Mark Sanford continues to split hairs and try to spin out of doing wrong things. This time: He's starting to use the Governor's Mansion for a political fund-raiser - - something he criticized in the past.

Jobs. More than 53,000 South Carolina jobs went overseas in the last 11 years because employers could pay lower wages and cheap imports caused competition. Underlying problem: Greed.

SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION
How you can subscribe to the full edition of the report

The above version of S.C. Statehouse Report is the free edition. Our paid version, which costs about $100 per month, offer a weekly legislative forecast packed with information that can keep you and your business on the cutting edge.

Notes veteran lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell: "Statehouse Report gives an inside practical report of weekly problems with and progress of legislation. It reviews the whole landscape."

In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get::

Hot issue -- an early peek at weekly commentary on something really big. Last year, we continually beat other news organizations in finding major trends in issues, from teacher and budget cuts to wetlands proposals.

Agenda -- a weekly forecast of the coming week's floor agenda

Radar Screen -- a behind-the-scenes look at what's really going on in the General Assembly

McLemore's World -- an early view of our respected cartoonist Bill McLemore.

Tally Sheet -- a weekly review of all of the new bills introduced in the legislature in everyday language

Scorecard -- A Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down of major political/policy events for the week.

Calendar -- a weekly list of major meetings for the House, Senate and state agencies.

Megaphone -- a quote of the week that you'll find illuminating.

To learn more about subscriptions, contact Andy Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com

LEARN MORE
Visit Statehouse Report

CHECK IT OUT
ThinkSouth

A new blog on ideas and news that is for Southern policy leaders, analysts and more.

 

  Copyright 2005, Statehouse Report LLC, which is affiliated with The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.
Retransmission or reproduction of more than one copy is prohibited without express permission of the publisher. For additional information, including subscription prices, go to
http://www.statehousereport.com/.