Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006
banks weaken process, but provide solutions
SC Statehouse Report
15, 2006 - - As lawmakers this year again ponder restructuring
to achieve efficiencies and avoid duplication, they're also
creating new kinds of structures that allow services to be
delivered - - in spite of these very same lawmakers.
In 1997, the General Assembly approved creation of the state
Transportation Infrastructure Bank, in part as a way of bringing
big highway and bridge infrastructure projects to fruition
quickly instead of saving years to pay for them. To date,
the bank has funded about $2 billion in projects, such as
the new Cooper River Bridge, the Carolina Bays Parkway in
Horry County and widening of SC 170 in Beaufort County. Without
the bank, those projects might still be pipe dreams.
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More recently, state lawmakers approved another bank, the
Conservation Bank, to allow a separate board to buy and preserve
important state lands by leveraging $10 million of annual
state money. The program has worked as shown in key tracts
secured from the Jocassee Gorges area of the Upstate to thousands
of acres along the Cooper River north of Charleston.
Now there's a proposal for a Rural Infrastructure Bank by
non-metro lawmakers who want the state to use a new process
to steer state money to build water and sewer projects needed
for rural areas to grow. And in the coming weeks, key lawmakers
will propose an Education Infrastructure Bank to direct money
to poor and rural school districts to help them replace crumbling
facilities because local tax bases aren't deep enough for
So while political rhetoric around Columbia is spinning about
the need to consolidate programs and departments, what's going
on with the quiet, insistent use of special banks and boards
to accomplish specific kinds of projects?
In one sense, it's a legacy of the partisan bickering that
has increased over the years. You might remember the US Congress
created the Base Realignment and Closure Commission years
back to take the politics out of the base closure process.
But the move had a beneficial political ramification - - it
took the heat off congressmen and senators when ''someone
else'' - - commissioners appointed by them and the president
- - voted to close the bases. Structurally, however, the mere
existence of the commission was proof Congress had gotten
so political over base closure that it was ineffective and
couldn't do its job.
These new state project banks seem to have similar positive
and negative aspects. On one hand, the banks provide the state
with more flexibility and allow needed projects to get done,
according to Ellen Saltzman of the Strom Thurmond Institute
at Clemson University. But because they are funded by earmarked
appropriations, they take away money from the state's General
Fund. In turn, that could be bad for programs funded by formulas,
such as some local government programs.
''If you take this money out of the General Fund, you reduce
the base from which other things are calculated,'' she noted.
SC House Minority Leader Harry Ott, the Calhoun County Democrat
who is pushing the Rural Infrastructure Bank idea, said he
believed infrastructure banks helped take a lot of politics
out of the process, which could help rural areas that are
more and more beholden to metro and suburban legislative power.
''It's a more efficient way to make sure the funds are spent
where the needs are because if you leave it up to the votes
on the floor of the House, small, rural counties will never
It's much easier, for example to make a case to a small board
of a few commissioners who have a pot of money to help rural
interests than it does to have to get full legislative approval
for every single rural project, Ott said.
So whether it's a bank that provides funding for roads that
lawmakers can't agree on, water lines for rural areas that
they won't fund, school buildings in poor areas or land for
conservation, the new state funding banks make a lot of sense
because they get things done in spite of lawmakers.
But very existence of these banks may be proof positive that
legislators might be losing some power. These days, perhaps,
if you really want to get something done, the Legislature
might not be the best place to do it.
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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for business subscribers. More: SC
Rising sales taxes irk retailer
I am a motorcycle-ATV dealer in Florence and I am bewildered
by the fact that more small business people have not attacked
the issue of increasing sales taxes (state and local).
Retailers, except auto, which seem to have the Legislature
by the "___", are fighting the loss of business
to out-of-state sales where taxes are not paid. ATVs are not
taxed in NC and Tennessee, for example. We cannot compete.
Check out the Bike Trader online and see dealers in other
states advertise no sales tax to SC customers.
-- Rusty Davis, Florence, SC
Agree on tobacco tax
To the editor:
I agree with increasing SC tobacco tax [Commentary,
1/8]. I also think that only non-smokers should be
eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid programs and that both
programs should offer free "Stop Smoking" plans
in order to ease the stress of those smokers who wish to become
-- Bob Logan, Little River, SC
1/7: Welcome to Ausband
To the editor:
It is wonderful to see a seasoned veteran such as Jerry [Ausband]
back in action with his insightful voice.
-- Becky Billingsly, Myrtle Beach, SC
- 1/1: Stop
public smoking, Name withheld, Elgin, SC
- 12/29: Drivers
are only part of the problem, Philippe Felsenhardt,
- 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:
Confederate documents. Thomas Willcox of Seabrook
Island, whose family has owned an estimated $2.4 million in
Civil War documents since the burning of Columbia, has won
his ownership from the State of South Carolina that claimed
the documents for its own. It's plumb ridiculous that the
state plans to appeal, and never mind that the problem is
that Willcox is in bankruptcy. He needs to auction off the
documents, including some signed by Civil War notables in
South Carolina. The documents belong to Willcox; it's worth
stacking up Palmetto logs around his home to protect it.
Marsh islands. The Department of Health and Environmental
Control put the emphasis on the latter part of its name this
past week by deciding to eliminate any new bridges to small,
unspoiled islands in marshes and waterways. The only problem
is that the rules cannot become permanent until the General
Assembly acts. But it should act soon. And after that, the
owners can paddle their way to their island land.
Interstate 73. Farmer Wayne Hardwick of western Horry
County really feels stuck right in the middle. We understand:
``It'll ruin my livelihood if it comes by. I've worked hard
for what I've got and I don't want it taken away." He
opposes one of the undecided routes for the proposed Interstate
73, but that highway would be in the first to run to the No.
1 or No. 2 resort in the United States, Myrtle Beach. Maybe
Male drivers. To males in general and to them and
other drivers in York, Horry, Anderson, Richland and Lexington
counties: A Bronx cheer, and the loss of many dollars, we
hope. Males led female drivers in being ticketed for not wearing
seatbelts, and all drivers in the five cited counties led
the rest of the state in tickets after Dec. 9, when the new
mandatory seatbelt law went into effect.
Ridiculous! Two state senators, Democrat Phil Leventis
of Sumter and Republican Jake Knotts of Lexington want to
give motorcyclists the right to run red lights because the
aluminum on their bikes doesn't trip sensors in the roadway
that control the lights. So what! If a motorcycle would simply
get behind a vehicle, there would be no problem. Either that,
or start wearing helmets again.
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