S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1120.mainstream.htm

COMMENTARY
South Carolina may be moving out of the mainstream
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 20, 2005 - - Next year could prove to be the year that South Carolina completely leaves the mainstream, if it has even been there at all in recent times.

If lawmakers go through with two major policy shifts in 2006, the Palmetto State may become the unruly teenager of states.

First is the hullabaloo surrounding property taxes. The squeaky wheels around South Carolina have gotten worked up into such a froth in recent years that state lawmakers seem to be trying to outdo each other to give them what they want - - lower property taxes.

Never mind that altering the state's tax structure radically could wreak long-term havoc, particularly on lower- and middle-class taxpayers. Never mind that it would leave the state in the uncompetitive business position of having one of the nation's highest sales tax rates, even though property taxes would be among the lowest.

Lawmakers still have a way to go to resolve differences on how to cut property taxes, but few seem to be focusing on the inequities that will be created if they shift how governments get money to provide services. Not only would boosting the reliance on sales taxes heighten instability in the system, but it would shift more of the burden to lower-income taxpayers.

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According to a fresh analysis by The Post and Courier of Charleston, the plans being considered by the House and Senate would "give the lion's share of the benefits to those with pricey real estate, while owners of the least-expensive homes could wind up paying more tax instead of less."

The analysis showed for every dollar in relief received by the owner of a $100,000 home, the House plan would provide $21 in relief for the owner of a million-dollar home. Under the same scenario with the Senate plan, the million-dollar home owner would get almost $46 in savings.

If state lawmakers don't slow down a little and look system-wide on how tax shifting will cause big problems, future lawmakers will inherit a tax structure filled with problems galore.

In the second policy shift, Gov. Mark Sanford continues to push for Medicaid changes that would privatize the state's current program into "personal health accounts" that don't exist yet in the marketplace.

Earlier in the year, Sanford and his cronies asked the federal government to overhaul the Medicaid program to save money. But they did it just a few days after the legislative session without really informing lawmakers, which raised their ire.

In the months that followed, Sanford tinkered with the plan and left children out of the planned changes - - a big improvement. But critics worry the plan remains risky and theoretical, and may cause costs to rise because of increased private bureaucracies needed to manage the privatized accounts. More importantly, there's a great fear the 850,000 Medicaid recipients in the state, most of them among the state's poorest, will get less health care in the future, not just a system that controls costs better.

Both of these proposals seem to fly counter to the old axiom, "You can't get something for nothing." With property taxes, lawmakers seem to want to give cuts to squeaky wheels without fully understanding the mayhem they could cause systemically. With Medicaid, the governor and his team seem to want to save money without understanding the state's most vulnerable probably will suffer more.

Perhaps state lawmakers should consider another old political axiom - - "When in doubt, do nothing." That course of action would do more to protect lower-income South Carolinians than radical changes proposed to "fix" property taxes and Medicaid.

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
11/20: The need for prescriptions

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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WARM WELCOME
Ausband to become new editor

S.C. Statehouse Report is pleased to announce that veteran South Carolina journalist Jerry C. Ausband of Garden City Beach will take the helm as new editor in December.

"Jerry is a well-connected, highly-respected journalist who will bring fresh insights and a lot of experience to Statehouse Report," said Andy Brack, who will remain as publisher of the weekly legislative forecast. "We're happy to have his expertise to broaden our weekly offerings as the best weekly policy and political journal in the state."

Ausband, a native of Conway and a graduate of Clemson University, has long observed and written about the General Assembly of South Carolina. A veteran of 42 years in journalism, most in the Carolinas, Ausband retired from The Sun News of Myrtle Beach in June 2001 as editorial page editor after being editor of two daily newspapers in the Carolinas.

He notes he is not a member of any political party, and he has often explained in writing that he does not believe any party has locks on all the best candidates. You can reach Ausband by email at: jausband@statehousereport.com.

FEEDBACK
11/15: Oil drilling article mongers fear

To the editor:

I couldn't help but notice the typical generalizations in your article. (Commentary, 10/23) Where should I start?. "But it would wreck SC's environment." Take a look at California..they have refineries and over 100 terminals that receive Petroleum and petroleum products by tankers, etc.. I have not noticed a wrecked Californian environment.

You clearly have no clue how much oil is brought to the US in tankers. Try to name a ship, except the Exxon Valdez, which had a spill of over 10,000 gallons..you can't. To project the idea that the Exxon Valdez would be repeated off our coast is bad science and you know it. You conveniently comment about the Gulf/LA/ area as cancer alley, yet nowhere do you mention the 20 or so refineries in California. Your comments are completely unjustified and typical of Democratic fear-mongering.

-- Don Allen, Charleston, SC

11/14: Who will take notice of stats?

To the editor:

Bravo, Mr. Brack... very interesting (Commentary, 11/13)... wonder who will take notice of it.

Meanwhile, I have often wondered why so many heavy trailers that are towed behind pickup trucks and SUV's do not have a "trailer license plate"... which means that Beaufort County (and perhaps all SC counties) do not collect any tax fees for the SC General Revenue Fund. These same trailers are participating in wear and tear of our roads... are they not? So why do other US States charge a fee and we do not? Another factor would be the safety of these trailers. Please refer to...

You might find other interesting items in that report.

-- Bill Homewood, Hilton Head Island, SC

11/14: Disturbing article

To the editor:

Thank you for your terribly disturbing article (Commentary, 11/13). I would like to suggest that 1) until South Carolinians are willing to invest in public services, such as education, the statistics cited will not change; and 2) the religious leaders of community have not spoken loudly enough that the human suffering the quoted statistics represent give rise to ethical and moral issues as well as political.

-- Charles Sanders, Hilton Head Island, SC

11/14: Good report on SC

To the editor:

Good report about our state. (Commentary, 11/13) Can you tell from the small elections we have had during the past months in South Carolina how incumbents are doing ? I am from Fayetteville, N.C., and several cities within the Fayetteville area had elections. Results favor new candidates. In , Hope Mills NC, a young school teacher and two other incumbents ran for Mayor. The young teacher and (part-time writer for the Fayetteville Observer) beat the other two experienced politicians. A former executive with Fayetteville Observer beat two-time black Mayor for the office. The issue in that election was "mandatory annexation" with the citizens that did not want to be annexed going to the polls and taking out the incumbent whom supported the forced annexation.

You do a good job. We really have too many aged persons in office that "just keep hanging on". We have many city administrators,fire chiefs and police chiefs that should be "replaced," but they run from council member to councilmen and manage to keep the right council members happy to remain on the job. Thanks

-- Boyd McLean, Gaffney, SC

11/13: Look at where we're doing well

To the editor:

The trouble with "floundering" (Commentary, 11/13) is that sometimes you end up like the fish -- i.e., only on one side. How about just a few "other side" firsts, like:

  • The USC Darla Moore School -- #1 in international business; or

  • MUSC, #1 in pediatrics; or

  • The nominee for the Federal Reserve chairmanship, a product of the SC high school system in Dillon; or

  • The first-ever IT recipient of the Albert Einstein Award, presented in Israel last month to a Charleston resident; or

  • Dr. Ann Kultz, recognized by her peer group as one of the top nutritionist doctors in the country; or

  • The Spoleto Festival, the most comprehensive arts festival in the USA; or

  • The Gibbes Museum of Art, holding the best collection of American portrait miniatures in the USA; or

  • The fact that your daughter has selected Charleston to be her first home?

Get the idea? Looking at the sea of South Carolina life from a well-rounded perspective like another kind of fish, one might see that there is another side of the ocean that may not be as course or cloudy as the sand or sea that one might observe if that fish only has a flounder's point of view.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that the flounder would indeed have more life-enhancement opportunities if it was in a better "school" and did not have some of the social and environmental issues that affect humans as well as fish. We all (elected and non-elected citizens) need to work toward improving the quality of life in SC And for the most part, I think we are.

-- John Rivers, Charleston, SC

11/13: Bogus math

To the editor:

There are nine ways to calculate the graduation rate (Commentary, 11/13) and you used the lowest and the right wing's number which is used to attack our public schools . The highest rate is 73% which is still low but the lowest is bogus! You should know better .

-- Samuel Tenenbaum, Lexington, SC

11/13: SC needs to move away from Civil War

To the editor:

Thanks for an informative email. (Commentary, 11/13) The number one thing South Carolina can do in Washington to gain more respect and federal funding is to apologize for seceding from the USA. The next thing is to apologize for not lowering the flag for Rosa Parks as she is an icon for all to respect.

There are some other things, but this will make it known South Carolina in not a state for racists. The fact is having traveled to 49 of the 50 states, I have an idea of what many Americans think of SC and it isn't complimentary. SC has a great future and wastes it on dealing with garbage from the Civil War.

-- Gary Rice, Columbia, SC

11/13: Stats show state's daunting predicament

To the editor:

Great piece (Commentary, 11/13) and yes, we feel just the same! All this must be very daunting for a young family hoping to have spend a lifetime here. Lately, we have been examining where to go, since nothing seems to be changing. I look forward to your article each Sunday. Thanks for all you do to heightened the local consciousness.

-- Harriet Smartt, Isle of Palms, 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

Time. The magazine scored by naming Gov. Mark Sanford as one of the nation's worst governors -- something we've known for awhile. And you know it must have gotten to Sanford because he came out slugging in response -- something he generally leaves to flacks. (P.S. It's laughable for Sanford to call Time a "liberal" magazine.)

Public education. News that Sanford won't push for his much-desired school voucher bill is good news for public education. While he was criticized for election year politics, it's good news that it likely won't be a front-burner issue (although it is clear the issue is far from resolved.).

Thumbs down

Open government. Reports by SC Press Association newspapers clearly indicated that police departments still don't understand that reports are public information and that a lot of local governments don't understand that the public's business should be in public.

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