S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1030.site.htm

COMMENTARY
New state Web portal will be easier to use
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

OCT. 30, 2005 - - The state's main Web site is about to be much easier to use. And it's being done in a way that highlights how government can work well to improve customer service without spending money.

Thanks to an innovative partnership between the state and a private company, a new South Carolina Web portal called SC.gov will debut Tuesday (Nov. 1). It will replace MySCgov.com, a site run by the state over the years with a somewhat spotty record.

For people who want to do more business online or find information about state government through the Internet, the change will be like switching from driving a stick-shift car to an automatic.

"There's a whole new way of looking at things from a resident's perspective that's going to make it a lot easier for people to follow and find things," said Ken Oliphant, director of marketing for S.C. Interactive, the company launching and running the site for the state.

A few years back when the world was gaga about how you could link anywhere through a Web portal like Yahoo!, the state rushed to get its own general site anybody could visit to find quick links to anything in state government. The state Budget and Control Board internally built, ran and started maintaining the portal, MySCgov.com

It has worked O.K. But it hasn't kept up with lots of online service innovations other states have. Why? MySCgov.com was run on a shoestring, was difficult to update, was not very deep and was hard to search. And because cash-strapped agencies had to spend money to put more stuff on their agency sites, those sites changed or offered little to keep up with the times. (An exception was the state's Department of Motor Vehicles site, which developed an easy-to-use tool to let people renew drivers' licenses online.)

But South Carolina information managers knew MySCgov.com wasn't doing the job. So the Budget and Control Board put out a general request for bids to the private sector to propose ways to change things.

Along came NIC, Inc., a leading provider of e-government services with big projects currently in 18 states. It proposed something different - - to upgrade the state's Web portal for free in exchange for the right to work with state agencies to encourage them to use its online service offerings developed in other states. Over the years, the company has developed about 1,000 applications for online services - - everything from tools that let professionals renew their licenses through the Internet to Web authoring software that let state employees update their Web sites without needing to know sophisticated programming. For some of those services, NIC, Inc., through its SC Interactive subsidiary, would charge nominal service fees to recoup its costs and make some money.

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For example, insurance agents considering a driver's car insurance application may want instant access to driving records. Currently, they can get the information for about $6 but there's a wait. But through an online tool offered by SC Interactive, they can get the information instantly for about $7.25.

For many business people, it's worth a little bit more money to get information instantly than it is to wait. To ensure SC Interactive didn't charge too much, the state now has an oversight board that reviews charges.

Bottom line: The state has developed an enterprise relationship with a private firm on which the burden will fall to hawk online services to state agencies. The better job they do, the more services will be offered online and the easier it will be for people to do business or find information online. And the development cost to taxpayers for all of this is cut from millions of dollars to nothing.

"Obviously what we want to have happen is not to have people stand in line or come to Columbia to do business with government," said Michael Sponhour, spokesman for the Budget and Control Board. "This is a nice blending of the public's business and the best of the free enterprise system.

"This is going to make life a lot easier for citizens of the state and state government. You've got a company that has already found solutions in other states and put them to practice."

And now they'll use them here. Take a look on Tuesday at the new site. There's a lot to like about it.

  • You can visit the new site by logging on to: www.sc.gov.

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
10/30: 2000 and counting

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK
10/26: No drilling, period

To the editor:

All of the Sea Islands off the coast of SC between Charleston and Savannah are territories of the federal government period. The state never owned these islands. Everything that happens on these islands is null and void and illegal. We should have U.S.Marshal's and not deputies. All of the charters that come from the state are null and void. President Truman vetoed a bill when U.S.Congress tried to give these islands to SC Only the U.S. government can make the decision to drill for oil or not.

-- Joni Dimond, Hilton Head Island, SC

10/24: Consider wind energy

To the editor:

Good article on offshore drilling [Commentary, 10/23] but you left out wind energy as an alternative. South Carolina has a world class offshore wind resource in relatively shallow water. (Click link to see article).

Many of us in and out of academia are looking at ways to exploit this resource. With the costs of industrial scale wind energy dropping and wind energy manufacturing already being done by major state employers like GE, it would seem to me that wind energy is the right way to get energy from off our shores.

-- Dennis Dinge, Conway, SC

10/24: The extortion of extra road taxes

To the editor:

Enjoy your column [Commentary, 10/23] in the Morning News.

Have you every reported on the latest fad: Adding Sales Tax to match funds for road improvements from the Infrastructure Bank? Has this process ever been reviewed by the courts?

I hope that people find out how our politicians are using extortion to get extra taxes for supposedly road improvements. I consider this first rate bribery to get funds for improvements that are being denied us as residents of the Pee Dee and some other areas in the State of SC. They tried it a couple of years ago to pass a referendum in Florence County and it was defeated.

I was in the upstate last week to carrying my daughter back to Clemson and I was and am astounded by the road construction in the areas of Greenville and Spartanburg. I saw signs in Pickens County requesting voters to defeat some sales tax and I assume it is the same thing. I know Greenville County built a new Interstate bypass and is paying from a road tax called tolls. Seems like there should be a better method of modernizing our roads.

-- Tom Ford, Florence, SC

10/24: Out-of-date reactionary ideas

To the editor:

Andy, your automatic reaction [Commentary, 10/23] to thoughtful and careful oil/gasoline refinery ideas for SC are about 20 years our of date - - new technologies and on-going research has made huge differences in safety and environmental soundness of such projects -

Here's a novel idea for you to chew on: why not HELP Big Oil to build a new refinery (instead of fighting them) and then in exchange collect a royalty on production (never done before, as far as I know) to be used for SC infrastructure, health care, etc.... - AND get our research Universities involved to build the safest and soundest refinery in the modern era...-

-- Steve Imbeau, Florence, SC

10/23: Balance needed

To the editor:

There is no question that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and find alternative fuels. Your no drilling idea and no new refineries (no new ones in 20 years) has greatly increased the gasoline prices. We have proved that we can get the oil we need and still preserve the environment. The Exxon Valdez was one of those freak situations...and given all the oil that we have produced over the years, one bad accident is a pretty good record. It took a few years, but Prince William Sound is as good as new and they catch lots of salmon there now.

We need to strike a balance of protecting the environment and being realistic about our energy needs. It is extremely dangerous for our military for us to be so dependent on foreign oil. Common sense needs to prevail.

-- Woody Jones, Florence, SC

Recent feedback:


KEEPING TRACK
Ahead again on property taxes

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

In Statehouse Report:

10/2: Getting rid of property taxes would be dumb: "Instead of listening to the hype, South Carolinians really need to think about what they're asking for if they want reduced property taxes because they might get something worse than they bargained for. Not only should they watch out for the spin, but they should look out for misinformation, which seems to have surfaced much more than the truth so far."

In the Rock Hill Herald:

10/28: The sales tax trade-off: "Substituting sales taxes for property taxes is simply swapping one tax for a potentially worse one. Lawmakers should not get away with labeling this as tax relief....The fact is, there is no free lunch. Lowering property taxes and raising sales taxes presents a whole new set of problems and increased burdens on certain segments of the population. Lawmakers need to be frank about whom this so-called tax relief will help and whom it will hurt."

In Statehouse Report:

8/21: Irony of success driving property tax debate: Gov. Mark Sanford has warned that the legislature should be careful about fiddling with property taxes without considering long-term implications on the majority of what they fund: education. He's right. Instead of getting caught up in a public frenzy, lawmakers should take a measured approach on property taxes.

In the Spartanburg Herald Journal

10/27: Tax relief plan has several holes: "To start with, the panel did not consider the state's entire tax structure and how to reform the method by which the state funds all of state and local government and schools. Instead, it seeks to respond to homeowners angry about rising property taxes....Reducing the property tax while increasing the sales tax may work well in the context of a complete restructuring of the state's tax code. But this plan appears to be another hasty piece of relief offered to taxpayers without fully evaluating how it will affect the rest of the state's tax structure and economy.


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

Bernanke. Thumbs up to Dillon-raised Ben Bernanke, who the president last week nominated to chair the Federal Reserve. It's called the most powerful economic job in the world.

Williams. Hats off again to Orangeburg federal Judge Karen Williams, who again is on the short-list for the US Supreme Court.

Thumbs down

State senators. A huge thumbs down to the state Senate panel that is now pushing a $906 million tax shift from property to sales taxes. Yes, we'd have the lowest property taxes in the nation, but among the highest sales taxes. More work needs to be done before this bad idea becomes permanent.

Campaign disclosure. South Carolina ranks second lowest in the nation in campaign disclosure, a rating that is expected to wither when the state begins online disclosure for constitutional officers in January. More.

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