Sunday, Jan. 8, 2006
Look for Andy Brack's weekly Statehouse
Report commentary soon in the new Columbia
what's best for South Carolina
SC Statehouse Report
8, 2006 - - If state lawmakers about to head to Columbia were
to forget politics and consider what two things they could
do to best help people across the state, they might reach
the following conclusion:
The state's lowest-in-the-country cigarette tax is a
missed revenue opportunity that could pay for serious improvements
for education, curb smoking and improve the health of South
Carolinians. By raising the tax which is painless for three
out of four state residents, there would be more than enough
money to fund free pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds across
Yes, these may be radical ideas for the Palmetto State. Yes,
there would be a hike in a "sin" tax. Yes, controversy
would arise. But these connected policy options are the right
things to do. South Carolina's children are worth earlier
educational intervention. A new investment will have long-term
dividends, such as cutting the youth smoking rate and generating
children who are better prepared to learn and who have access
to more educational tools than today.
A few facts may help you reach a similar conclusion.
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Cigarette taxes. When North Carolina raised its cigarette
taxes last year, South Carolina became home to the lowest
rate in the country - - 7 cents per pack. Polls show most
people don't object to raising the tax to about $1 per pack
to help curb smoking and improve health, according to Nancy
Cheney of the American Cancer Society in Columbia.
If the state raised the tax to $1 per pack, it could expect
to generate $223 million to $300 million in revenue, according
to state and ACS figures. If it raised the tax to the Southeastern
average of 35.6 cents per pack, it could generate about $95
million in additional revenue.
But raising the tax also would, perhaps more importantly,
have major health benefits. The ACS says increasing cigarette
taxes by 93 cents would likely cause youth smoking to drop
by 18.8 percent, which would result in 57,500 fewer youth
smokers and 40,000 fewer adult smokers. Even more surprisingly,
long-term health savings could approach $1 billion, according
to the ACS.
"Treatment costs for tobacco-related disease in South
Carolina were $862 million in 2005 of which the state Medicaid
program paid over $300 million and every SC household, smoking
or not, paid $545 to cover costs," an ACS briefing paper
Earlier kindergarten. Of the approximately 56,000
4-year-olds in South Carolina, about 31,400 children are considered
"at risk" because their families are in economic
circumstances that qualify them for free or reduced-price
meals at schools, according to the state Department of Education.
Almost 18,000 of these children are in some kind of government-funded
pre-kindergarten program, but 13,635 children are in no program.
A couple of proposals are floating around to fund full-day
education for 4-year-olds. To pay for a pre-kindergarten program
for the 13,635 at-risk kids in no program, the state would
have to commit to a $50 million recurring cost. State Superintendent
of Education Inez Tenenbaum has been working on developing
such a program, in coordination with private day care providers,
faith-based organizations and the public school system, for
several months, spokesman Jim Foster said.
Just this week, two leading Democratic lawmakers proposed
a broader initiative that would provide kindergarten and early
childhood education for all of the state's 4-year-olds. The
proposal by Sen. Joel Lourie and Rep. James Smith, both from
Columbia, would cost about $100 million annually.
"It's immeasurable what this would mean in South Carolina
for this generation of pre-schoolers," Lourie said.
It's clear from a recent state court decision by Judge Thomas
Cooper that more needs to be done to improve early childhood
education in the state. In a decision at the end of 2005,
Cooper essentially ruled that the state has not provided a
"minimally adequate education" to children living
in poverty. Despite evidence of crumbling facilities and the
need for better teachers in poor school districts, the judge
surprisingly ruled the state provided safe facilities and
"minimally competent teachers."
Nevertheless, it was pretty clear last year that lawmakers
thought Cooper would issue a much tougher ruling that would
cost the state upwards of a billion dollars for educational
Now with Cooper's decision focusing on early childhood education,
the least lawmakers can do is fund a universal pre-kindergarten
program for 4-year-olds for $100 million - - almost exactly
the cost of raising cigarette taxes to the Southeastern average.
1/8: Bowled over
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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
Public smoking prohibitions needed
To the editor:
I read the Statehouse Report for April
17, 2005 by Andy Brack. Still find it hard to believe
that nothing has been done to stop people from smoking in
bars and restaurants in this State. South Carolina will probably
the last state in the lower 48 to create a policy about stopping
people from smoking where food and drinks are served.
I watch on the news, go to other states, talk to non-smokers,
and I hear it over and over again that smoking should be banned
in bars and restaurants. There in nothing worse than sitting
in a restaurant and tying to eat your dinner when someone
starts smoking. You have your smoking and non-smoking areas
but smoke does not stop when it reaches the nonsmoking section.
Dont care if the ventilation system is the best possible
unit, you still smell the smoke.
The way health care costs are soaring, nothing is being done
to stop people from smoking in bars and restaurants. I hear
talk about bars and restaurants loosing money if people cant
smoke in their businesses. What about the countless nonsmokers
who do not go to these businesses because of the smoke. There
are a whole lot more nonsmokers then smokers in this country,
do the math please.
I try so hard to lead a healthy life style, eat right, exercise,
and not smoke. But, when I go out and have to inhale second
hand smoke, something is wrong with out policy makers. You
do not have to stop people from smoking in homes but help
those who want to go out at night and not inhale second hand
-- Name withheld upon request, Elgin, SC
Drivers are only part of the problem
What's going on with Statehouse Report? You are putting the
burden of dangerous road exclusively to the driver. (Commentary,
12/25) What about road designers and truck safety
Here is a recent example seen by the undersigned at the Blythewood
exit at 6 AM. Four trucks going to the nearby factories are
stopped at the exit taking its full length. The first trailer
stops at the stop sign and the three behind come to a complete
stand still. An SUV exits the highway at 55 mph+ and does
not see that the mass of steel in front of him does not move.
A loud bang occurs that could have been avoided if trucks
at a standstill would have a sort of flash light alerting
the driver they do not move.
And what about tire designers? Saw a pick up truck with emergency
lights on at 6:15 AM on the 77. Slowed down to avoid by a
fraction of inches hitting a huge trailer loose truck that
was dark in the middle of the highway. Could not they design
such tires with fluorescent material. To think that only drivers
cause accidents is just seeing 25% of the problems.
-- Philippe Felsenhardt, Columbia, SC
- 12/27: Driver
responsibility, Frank Hamilton, Beaufort, SC
- 12/27: Nothing
done about speeding, Russell Menz, Bluffton, SC
- 12/26: Truckers
cause problems on road too, Jeffrey Sewell,
- 12/22: Workers'
comp needs different overhaul, Name withheld, Aiken,
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
Property taxation. Hats off to individual taxpayers
(pro) and to local governments and businesses (con) for stirring
the General Assembly to action on property taxation, whether
any of the pending plans is the right one.
Cobb-Hunter. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg
firmly spoke her views this week, especially to improve poverty
levels by paying state workers more, utilizing a state commission
to recommend non-executive pay levels much as is done for
teachers and for department heads.
Sanford. Gov. Mark Sanford's executive budget proposal
to refund $150 from the state in exchange for a 5.5 percent
cap on spending to the``average family'' in South Carolina
is being received as a partly cloudy, partly sunny proposal.
Some legislative leaders say they are willing to consider,
and possibly endorse, the governor's proposals, but other
Republicans refuse to endorse the tax refund as being too
little to matter. Some others, however, point out that $150
is no small sum to poor people whose heating bills, among
other things, are difficult to pay. And there is the matter
of the total of $151 million in tax refunds as proposed.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen. The Camden Democrat told a
reporter in Columbia he does not believe ``home rule'' will
prove a constitutional issue in property tax reform, said,
``We make [propose] the Constitution up here.'' Already, the
Senate is proposing constitutional issues to counter those
being raised by counties and others. The voters have to approve
any constitutional issues but the issues must be proposed
by the legislators. And the voters were those who prompted
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