S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1127.improve.htm

COMMENTARY
Ideas abound to improve South Carolina
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

EDITOR'S 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.

NOV. 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 state."

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 and corruption."

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 prospects."

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.'"

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
11/27: Excuses, excuses

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:



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FEEDBACK
11/21: Lower property tax will hurt disabled vets

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 proposed "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.

11/21: There's more to property tax changes

To the editor:

“Further to Andy Brack’s 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 neutral.

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."

11/20: 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

11/18: 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

Recent feedback:


KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on property taxes, Sanford

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

In Statehouse Report:

8/21, 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: "It’s clear, though, that there are many pitfalls along the way and care must be taken to make sure that solving one problem doesn’t 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 middle."

In the Myrtle Beach Sun-News:

11/23: 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:

11/13. 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:

7/24, 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), he’s 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:

11/20, 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:

Thumbs up

Gas prices. News that gas prices have gone down to pre-Katrina levels comes as a relief to many, particularly holiday travelers.

Thumbs down

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.


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