S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0219.forest.htm

Big Dumb Idea: Selling national forest land
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

FEB. 19, 2006 - - Almost five years ago, some people thought it was crazy for us to suggest that faltering in the protection of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could someday have consequences for South Carolina.

From a 2001 commentary:

"Tampering with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge puts other protected areas at risk. If it's OK, for example, to make an exception for the oil in Alaska, is it too far of a stretch to consider whether northern growth pressures in Mount Pleasant will cause developers to try to get the government to sell part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in Awendaw for new home sites?

"Then if it's OK to sell off part of Cape Romain, doesn't it become justifiable to slice a chunk of the (then) Congaree National Monument in Richland County to allow a new technology park in a flood plain to be built to provide new jobs?"

Today, the answer, it seems, may be "yes" - - and possibly sometime sooner than we think. That is, of course, if the latest dumb proposal by the Bush Administration gets political legs.

Let's hope state lawmakers and citizens across this state and the country shoot it down like a [insert appropriate vice-presidential joke].

Earlier this month, the Administration announced plans to sell 306,000 acres of national forest land, including 4,659 acres in South Carolina. The reasoning? The land isn't used much and doesn't have much value.

Hogwash. That's political rationalization. If this land doesn't have much value, why are these blockheads salivating about the $800 million that would be generated from the land sales?

A Walhalla real estate agent told the Associated Press the land targeted for sale in the Upstate would "sell overnight," which would increase development in scenic areas and threaten other protected areas down the road.

To get support for this short-sighted proposal, the Administration says it wants to use the money to pay for rural schools and roads. In South Carolina - - after years of politicians and conservationists trying to add to the amount of protected land - - decreasing the amount of land might raise (at best) around $12 million, based on an extrapolation of numbers offered by the Administration.


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"The U.S. Forest Service was founded to establish forest reserves from timber-covered public domain land in an effort to retain forest land for future generations - - now it is disposable?" asks Angela Viney, president and CEO of the SC Wildlife Federation. "The $800 million expected revenue from the sales would only extend the payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 for an additional five years. The national forest lands will be gone forever."

Selling off the country's - - and the state's - - natural heritage is not only bad for wildlife and wild places, but it fundamentally violates the national trust. When the government set aside acreage for protection, it set aside the land for everyone, not as a slush fund for an Administration looking for more money.

South Carolina's conservation and political leaders should be outraged by this plundering of part of America's legacy. They should speak out loudly to members of the federal delegation to protest these plans. And they need to do it quickly to nip this bad idea in the bud.

State lawmakers also might want to consider approving a measure that would limit any land sales in South Carolina if the Administration's plan goes forward. They should consider passing a measure that would not allow sales of national forest lands in the private sector until state governments and non-profit conservation organizations had been given the "right of first refusal" to purchase and protect the targeted lands.

State Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, recalls something he learned from the late Alex Harvin, the long-time Clarendon County state representative who died last year.

"He taught me that you can't unpave a road," he said. "If we start selling national park land, you can't recover that."

lighter side

2/19: Hunting lawyers

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

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2/13: If change property tax, you'll lose federal deduction

To the editor:

Thank you for the fine piece regarding property tax reform. [Commentary, 2/12] There is another fact that can be added to your argument and that is the deductibility of property taxes for federal income purposes, making the after-tax burden less than had the tax not been deductible. In general, sales taxes are only deductible to the extent they exceed state income taxes, and then, only the amount exceeding income tax is deductible. For the state to swap a currently deductible tax (property) for a non-deductible one (sales) is not too smart.

-- David Pardue, Hilton Head Island, SC

2/13: Lawmakers need to make tough choices

To the editor:

We try to elect people smarter than we are to make decisions and vote the best way for everyone as far as passing new laws. It seems that everytime there is something a little bit tough they want to throw it on a ballot and let us make the decision. They must be afraid to take any heat for anything.

The second thing is property taxes. Everyone I know here on Hilton Head and I've been here 20 years has had their appraised value go up double and triple. Their taxes have increased by about fifty per cent on average. State law forbids more than a one percent windfall tax collection due to reappraisal (minus new construction) unless unless additional taxes for increased or expanded or new services are itemized on a tax notice for the citizen as a truth in taxation measure. I believe that Beaufort County is in violation and I thought that the tax commission monitors this and compares it to prior years to assure the law is followed. I guess not.

-- Larry Saylor, Hilton Head Island, SC

2/13: Reduce government

To the editor:

I note in your column regarding the property tax debate [Commentary, 2/12] that you offer a wide range of options to raise revenue other than raising sales tax:

"There's more than one way to reduce property taxes - - raising the our nationally-lowest cigarette tax or boosting our fourth-lowest gas tax or removing the billion dollars of sales tax exemptions or broadening the revenue base by taxing services."

What about REDUCING the size of government? How about getting government out of our bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, etc. How about getting government OUT of our homes all together and allowing us to OWN them? While we're at it, why don't we take government out of our cars, too, so we can OWN them? How about privatizing those things that can be privatized (EDUCATION, road maintenance, water and sewer, etc.) and cutting those government expenditures? How about firing some useless bureaucrats and giving that money back to the taxpayers? Everyone at the State House is talking about raising revenues; how about CUTTING expenditures? Then, perhaps, We the People can actually OWN our homes, instead of paying ransome (sic) to the State. (By the way, I think at $2.29 per gallon, gas prices are high enough!)

-- Elizabeth Moultrie, Lexington, SC

Editor's note: Mrs. Moultrie is married to Timothy Moultrie, a Libertarian candidate for state superintendent of education.

2/12: Listen to experts for a change

To the editor:

Amen. [Commentary, 2/12] Let's go back to the good ole days of smoke-filled rooms. Where are you Senator Gressette ? Will the blind lead the blind ? Remember , you are in SC ! How much did the State pay to defend itself for underfunding public schools? So why not cut our own throats again ? Isn't that what some want ?

Why would industry come here? Unless you give the state away like they did to get the Boeing job in Charleston. How much money will the state put out ? They are paying for this give away with bond money . 25 year bonds at 5 ? % . Calculate it ! Shame !!

-- Samuel Tenenbaum, Lexington, SC

Recent feedback:


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political news items from the past week:

Thumbs up

Casino boats. It's not clear how the state Supreme Court will rule on a Georgetown County law that bans casino boats, which the county is bringing to overturn a lower court ruling that killed the law. However, Chief Justice Jean Toal said of Georgetown, "[Y]ou're criminalizing conduct which is legal statewide." Roll the dice, one more time.

Stille. Former Rep. Harry Stille, who now lives in Due West, argues with telling effect that the reason for the property tax reform issue is "the Legislature has caused at least $820 million in lost revenue states that locals have had to make up for school and county operations …" that means the Legislature is blaming the schools and local governments for spending money the General Assembly forced it to spend. Maybe the senators and representatives ought to pass the collection plate to themselves.

In the middle

Martin. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, startled the Senate this past week by announcing that the federal government is pushing South Carolina to create more time between first and runoff primaries. The reasoning is that the usual two-week delay before the runoff may not allow time for, say, military personnel to vote absentee from Iraq. That is reasonable, but the fact that Martin brought the matter to the Senate on the floor had some heads shaking because he knew and others didn't. His bill is moving along.

Thumbs down

Clemmons. Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, says he doesn't smoke and wouldn't take his family to a restaurant that allows smoking, but also argues that he opposes forcing restaurants to go smoke-free. "It's an issue of business owners' rights," Clemmons told the AP, which we suppose means that if a business owner wants to die of second hand smoke, the state shouldn't prevent that. And never mind the customers.

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