Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005
to improve South Carolina
SC Statehouse Report
NOTE: This commentary is an expanded version
of one offered this week for member S.C. newspapers. Paragraphs
marked with an asterisk (*)
are new ideas received too late for the newspapers' deadlines.
27, 2005 - - Every year, state lawmakers decide how to spend
more than $5 billion through the state budget process.
But most of those dollars are pretty much automatic because
they're directed to existing programs passed by earlier legislatures.
While lawmakers do review spending in existing programs across
state government, much of the annual budget-wrangling is over
new tax money and how to spend it.
Some years, they have $300 million to $400 million to spend
on new priorities and inflated costs. Other years, such as
when the economy is sour, they have almost nothing.
Because lawmakers grapple with money decisions that are far
different from what most folks deal with, we thought it might
shed a different perspective on the process if we asked other
leaders across the state how they would spend a pool of money
to make things better. We sent this question to a diverse
group of 38 leaders:
Q: If you had $10 million that you had to spend to
improve South Carolina, how would you spend it?
We could have asked about $100 million, which is closer to
the pot considered by lawmakers, but we thought $10 million
would cause people to develop a targeted answer. Indeed, we
got several compelling replies:
Model school. College of Charleston professor and
author Jack Bass suggested a model school in an urban school
district to provide comprehensive resources, such as literacy
and job training, for school dropouts. "A good model
is the school in Los Angeles where Strom Thurmond's daughter,
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, worked for many years. Name
it for her as part of both their legacies."
Education for the middle. Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen
urged focusing on students in the middle who don't get the
help with scholarships that bright students get or targeted
assistance of those with special needs. "We have to develop
a strategy that will keep all students in school and graduate
them with skills and knowledge that will allow them to contribute
to our communities and enhance their quality of life. Once
we accomplish that, we will attract better paying jobs."
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Rewarding teachers. Trip DuBard, a Florence businessman
who chairs The School Foundation in his community, said the
money could be used to endow a process to reward the state's
top 100 teachers financially. "Most teacher of the year
things now are popularity and interview contests. I'd like
to see one based on data."
* Rural schools. Columbia
public relations wizard Bud Ferillo, who produced the shocking
Corridor of Shame documentary on the state's poor public
schools said the fund could pay for a half-day of summer schools
in the state's rural schools "to build reading, math
and science skills which are the building blocks for yearly
success." Another idea: Adding remedial reading teachers
in the early grades to get more students to proficiency by
the end of the third grade. "If the state puts additional
funding in our distressed rural districts, we can lift the
state's national ranking from the bottom to nearer the top
in another 15 years. It will take money and sustained effort.
There are no short cuts."
Endowed chairs. Retired Lexington businessman Sam
Tenenbaum, who has been heading the S.C. Cares effort for
hurricane victims in the Midlands, said the money would best
be spent on endowed university chairs. "It [then] becomes
$20 million and helps put us on the 21st century knowledge-based
economy that we must be a part of or we will remain a third-rate
Electronic library. Winthrop University President
Anthony J. DiGiorgio urged recurring funding to open the world
of knowledge to college students through a "statewide
electronic library program linking the on-line resources of
all our higher education libraries across the state so that
they can be accessed by any student at any time."
* Books, redistricting.
In a similar idea Charleston Realtor Charlie Smith suggested
that every book in SC public school libraries should be scanned
and available online for free to SC students. He also said
the funding should pay for legislative redistricting that
""targets the elimination of non-competitive districts
at all levels of government
to eliminate incompetence
Market S.C. Florence-Darlington Technical College
President Charles Gould said $7 million should be used to
market the state for economic development purposes with the
remaining money to help fund implementation of the new Education
and Economic Development Act, which seeks to encourage students
to finish school and provides cluster-based programs.
Prospecting. State Ports Authority CEO Bernie Groseclose
suggested acquiring a chunk of land near Charleston to create
"an inventory of ready sites for economic development
Reaching out. Madeleine McGee, who runs the Coastal
Community Foundation, suggests spending the money to "recruit
and retain middle class African-American businesses and community
leaders to move back/retire to SC" and to strengthen
early childhood education in public schools.
Environmental incentives. Charleston businessman Charles
"Pug" Ravenel recommended creation of an environmental
incentive pool to fund programs and ventures for investment
in renewable energy programs. The fund could seek matching
money of up to $90 million in debt from banks that operate
in the state.
Leadership program. A new leadership education program
for elected and civic leaders would make a real difference
and result in better policy decisions, according to Dana Beach,
executive director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League.
"The curriculum would cover the impacts of land use decisions
on fiscal health, transportation efficiency, quality of life,
affordable housing, economic development, environmental protection
and social equity."
As lawmakers mull the coming session, perhaps they can think
outside the box a little for new ways to help the thousands
without jobs and tens of thousands more who want to contribute
to improve the state's quality of life.
Noted Sumter's McElveen, "Time was when those who were
good with their hands and had some 'natural' mechanical talent
could always get good jobs. As I said, 'time was.'"
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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11/21: Lower property tax will hurt
To the editor:
Please communicate to the state Senate and House that their
proposed property tax fix will adversely affect 100% of disabled
veterans. State law allows people in this category to not
pay most property tax. That is one reason I moved to SC. The
"fix" will mean my property tax exemption is
meaningless and I will have to pay more out of pocket money
as a consumer.
-- Manuel Bettencourt, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
There's more to property tax changes
To the editor:
Further to Andy Bracks article
on property tax changes here, so to speak, is the rest
of the story.
The proposal currently being discussed in the Senate would
use the California Point of Sale method of assessment. Your
property is assessed at the price you paid for it. Your taxes
would be 1% of that assessment. Assessments could not increase
more than 2% per year. The advantage: When you buy a property
you know for certain the property tax. It prevents people
from being taxed off property they've owned for many years.
Minorities suffer the most. County governments would be able
to determine their annual income rather easily.
Property taxes for the operating costs of K-12 public schools
would be replaced by a statewide 2.5% sales tax. This money
would be distributed to the County School Districts on a per
pupil basis. To prevent this increase from being regressive,
the sales tax on groceries would be reduced to 2% to start,
eventually to zero. The aim of the proposal is to be revenue
The Senate is also considering offering counties three options
for assessments: the Point of Sale Method, the current system
and a yet to be disclosed third method. For many years property
values increased between 0.5% to 2% per year. That inflation
rate is as outdated as the current method of property assessments.
One last benefit is the reduction in costs to counties of
having to reassess every five years.
--Tom Hatfield, Hilton Head Island, SC
EDITOR'S NOTE: To check out Mr.
Hatfield's information, we sought input from a knowledgeable
senior Statehouse staffer, who observed:
"The point of sale method is preferred
by most Senate subcommittee members, but they will have
to offer other options to counties in order to get any constitutional
amendment passed. The subcommittee has yet to discuss the
second part of the California method, the 1% assessed value
limit on top of the point of sale method. ... If you want
to understand the logical consequence of the California
method, look at their income taxes - top marginal individual
rate of 9.3% - 8.84% for corporations (flat rate) and a
bank tax rate of 10.84% (flat rate). In addition, California's
state bonds are basically junk status."
Time to do something on illegal immigration
To the editor:
When 63% of Americans believe current immigration is a threat
to national security, 62% of Americans believe current immigration
is a threat to the US economy, 76% of Americans say its too
easy for people from other countries to enter the US, 85%
of Americans think illegal immigration is a SERIOUS problem,
75% of Americans what stricter immigration reform and 80%
of Americans believe we should restrict people coming into
our country to live more than we do now: it is time the Bush
Administration act before the USA sinks like an overloaded
fishing boat...The IRS estimates illegal workers (15 million)
cost our country $400 billion in unpaid taxes..--a number
approaching the entire budget deficit for 2005.Greedy Employers
need to be fined handsomely and/or jailed..IT IS TIME SOMETHING
BE DONE ABOUT IT before the situation worsens! Rome didn't
fall in a day.......
-- Bob Logan, Little River, SC
SC's problems are inexcusable
To the editor:
Oh how sad. [Commentary,
11/13] Having vacationed on the SC coast, we moved
from the DC area because we had left much of our hearts here
over the years. We thought we might have left some of the
DC failings to come to a gentler, kinder state. Road problems
we can understand. SC ranks very low in the gas tax charged,
thus less to use for road improvement. The rest is inexcusable.
How do we get the populace to understand these are THEIR problems,
not just the problem of those impacted?
-- Sue Womack, Pawley's Island, SC
drilling article mongers fear,
Don Allen, Charleston, SC
will take notice of stats?,
Bill Homewood, Hilton Head Island, SC
article, Charles Sanders, Hilton
Head Island, SC
report on SC, Boyd McLean, Gaffney,
at where we're doing well, John
Rivers, Charleston, SC
math, Samuel Tenenbaum, Lexington,
needs to move away from Civil War,
Gary Rice, Columbia, SC
show state's daunting predicament,
Harriet Smartt, Isle of Palms, SC
on property taxes, Sanford
This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report
with other media reports:
In Statehouse Report:
Be wary of shifting burden: "If those who
are complaining the most about property taxes get relief,
somebody else will have to make up for lost revenues.
It's generally accepted that such a move would shift
the tax burden from higher-income people to those in
the middle and bottom end of the income scale."
In the Greenwood Index Journal:
11/23, Property tax reform must
be fair: "Its clear, though, that there
are many pitfalls along the way and care must be taken
to make sure that solving one problem doesnt lead
to the creation of another. One thing should be uppermost
in any reform plan that might be instituted. It must
be fair to every property owner, rich, poor or in the
In the Myrtle Beach Sun-News:
Lawmakers need to study tax swap: "The
tax-swap legislation they're working on would, it appears,
make poor South Carolinians poorer to quiet the complaining
of middle- and upper-income property owners, which would
be a grave injustice. Legislators owe it to the rest
of us to find out whether this appearance is right -
or wrong - before they change the law."
In Statehouse Report:
9/18, Governor needs to be a leader: "What
South Carolina needs is a governor less concerned about
publicity stunts and Hollywood/ presidential public
relations and more concerned about helping most South
Carolinians attain the American dream and get better
lives. Stalwart Republicans are shouting this in his
ear, but he seems deaf. As noted by former Commerce
Secretary Bob Royall...Sanford needs to "do a much
better job, if indeed he will listen to some of the
concerns of the business sector and others."
In Time magazine:
Sanford one of nation's top three worst governors: "Business
leaders are losing patience with Sanford's vetoes of
budget items like trade centers and tourism marketing.
Even G.O.P. bosses charge that he is worse at economic
development than at grandstanding, as when he visited
the legislature last year carrying piglets to protest
what he considered pork-barrel spending."
In Statehouse Report:
Dems see tarnish on Sanford's image: While he
has accomplished little over the last three legislative
sessions (no real restructuring; no real income tax
cut; no school vouchers), hes still popular. But
there are signs that the image is tarnishing, Democrats
say. Some recent events play
into the hands of Democrats as potential hard-hitting
negative ads in the coming 2006 re-election campaign.
Lee Bandy in The State:
Dems think 2006 might be good year: Democrats
cite several factors in a changing political climate
that they believe is starting to shift in their direction....Sanford,
whose popularity has been on the wane of late, may not
provide much in the way of coattails for fellow Republicans.
SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
Gas prices. News that gas prices have gone down to
pre-Katrina levels comes as a relief to many, particularly
Sanford. It's hard to believe Gov. Mark Sanford said
the quote in today's Megaphone with
a straight face.
Unemployment. For the third month in a row, the state's
unemployment numbers have risen to a whopping 6.9 percent
-- one of the nation's worst rates.
Cigarette smuggling. The state has the lowest cigarette
tax rate in the country, which makes it easy for other states
to use cigarettes here for smuggling operations, as outlined
in a Nov.
20 story in The State.
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::
-- 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
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: