Polarizing debate avoided -- for now
By Bill Davis, Editor
MAY 24, 2013 -- Don’t get too excited that the state Senate passed a budget late last night for the coming 2013-14 fiscal year. The real work ain’t over yet.
The $6.3 billion budget of state tax dollars was the result of compromise by the three corners of the Senate – Democrats, country club Republicans and tea party conservatives.
As outlined in last week’s issue, Finance Chair Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) was able to get Democrats to vote with moderate Republicans for the budget. He sweetened the pot a little via funding for roads and enhanced funding for 4-year-old education programs.
Initially, Senate Democrats dug in their heels over GOP recalcitrance of expanding Medicaid through federal health care reform that would have brought in billions of matching dollars.
But with House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) promising a quick death for any budget package that included a direct nod to Obamacare, many in the Statehouse said they knew it was just a matter of time before Senate Dems caved.
State Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia) said that Medicaid expansion was likely “two years away” in the legislature due to current political will and an election in the House next year.
This year’s deal
The Senate budget that passed Thursday night included a $50 million chunk of recurring money for the state’s Infrastructure Bank to use to issue a bond of up to $500 million. That money is to fund the start of work on billions of dollars of maintenance and construction projects that the Department of Transportation has said is need for the state’s roads and bridges. The line item mirrored a bill put forward earlier this session by Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler (D-W. Columbia).
The 4K money -- $30 million every year -- would expand early education programs across the state.
Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Phil Bailey said 4K expansion had been a caucus agenda priority this year, but he wasn’t sure if roads or additional school money would survive a House vote on the amended budget.
Additionally, Bailey said the budget would once again have to be hashed out in a compromise agreement struck between the House and Senate in a conference committee, where a trio of members from each chamber will be selected to debate remaining issues.
Members of both chambers groused this week that certain senators were purposefully slowing the progress on the budget because the Senate as a whole was not excited about dealing with the last two major items on its agenda: ethics reform and the creation of a new Department of Administration.
Several legislators said one of the main reasons the Senate was reluctant to deal with ethics reform because actions Gov. Nikki Haley allegedly took while still a member of the House. Haley has been accused several times of ethics violations, only to be vindicated each time. Regardless, several legislators from both sides of the aisle said the Senate saw itself as getting “beat up” for Haley’s alleged actions.
A new political triangle
While the Senate budget package has survived the triangulation between its Democrats and country club Republicans and tea partiers, the creation of an Administration agency will have its own intriguing political triangle.
The agency would, as proposed, take over many of the functions of the state’s fiscal offices, including the Budget and Control Board, and largely be housed in the governor’s cabinet.
Many observers expect Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) to continue to lead the fight for the creation of Administration, something he made a plank out of in his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign against Haley. As such, he will fight for authorship of the agency in the face of Haley’s similar pitch.
But if Sheheen wants to see a Department of Administration to happen, he has to mollify members of his own chamber, especially moderate Republicans who are concerned about ceding any power to the executive branch.
The major concern is who will handle the state’s procurement powers. But that has been largely handled recently through an amendment that takes it out of the governor’s hands and making a five-member board oversee the state’s enormous buying power.
Crystal ball: It’s perhaps not too surprising that in a year that saw a marked increase in tax revenues for a cash-strapped state, politics seemed to once again play a bigger role in crafting a budget than in recent years. When there was no money, there was not as much to fight over. But as state coffers fill, so do political agenda items. The problem here is that with politics once again bullying policy, the budget process could get bogged down in yet another political triangle - - the one that exists between the House, the Senate and the governor’s veto pen. And that could mean a likely return to Columbia this summer for a special legislative session. Or worse: it could force implementation of a bill that would freeze state spending at current levels until a compromise is found.
On tap: Ethics, restructuring
With the Senate passing its budget package this week, its debates next week will center on ethics reform and the creation of a Department of Administration.
And with that budget passed, the ball is now in the House’s court. It will shoot down the budget, which will lead to three members from each body being named to a conference committee to work out a compromise budget to present to the governor.
Next week in key meetings:
- House Ways and Means. The full committee will meet Tuesday one and a half hours after adjournment in 521 Blatt to discuss a full agenda, including a bill dealing with charitable bingo. The meeting will follow several earlier subcommittee meetings. Agenda.
- House Judiciary. The full committee will meet Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. or an hour and half after adjournment for a full agenda, including a bill allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons into establishments which serve alcohol. Agenda.
- Senate Ethics. The full committee will hold a hearing Thursday 30 minutes after adjournment in 105 Gressette to discuss the alleged ethical violations of Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston). It will continue the next day beginning at 9:30 a.m. Agenda.
Road funding not even an appetizer
While ethics reform may get the most press and rhetoric, the hot-button topic in the legislature for the rest of this year and probably next year’s session will be road funding, With $20+ billion needed to shore up the state’s infrastructure, everyone wants a solution, but no one has one. The half-billion dollars that the Senate amended into its budget package doesn’t even qualify as an appetizer to fill the hunger for infrastructure improvements.
Haley blows it on ethics
Earlier this week, Gov, Nikki Haley strode to a bank of microphones to push hard for ethics reform. And she did that by criticizing Senate Democrats for allegedly slowing the process. And then, she sought their votes.
Dumb moves, it turns out, because she now has increased the enmity for her in that chamber to nearly the same level she “enjoys” in the House, observers agree. Haley came off as especially tone deaf, according to sources in the Senate Democratic Caucus, since her castigating came on the heels of last week’s revelations that she had taken a campaign-funded photographer with her on state plane trips. One of those trips was a statewide junket during which she introduced her own ethics reform package.
The problem? Many in the Statehouse think she violated state ethics rules on using the state’s plane. Now many across the state are wondering if she is capable of learning from her mistakes. We’ll see.
House Minority Leader state Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) this week put up a bill clearing the way for the state to make medical marijuana legal.
Rutherford, knowing he would get some catcalls, said that a similar bill was put forward and passed in the 1980s in the Statehouse. That bill said it would dovetail with federal laws regarding marijuana use.
With the Obama Administration having announced it would not seek criminal cases against the green stuff, Rutherford argued “there is no reason this body should stand in the way of a substance that a doctor says can ease the suffering of one of this state’s citizens.”
Rutherford said gone are the days when the marijuana had to be smoked, thanks to inventions like “inhalation pens,” similar to the devices smokers use to partake of tobacco in public places.
The matter won’t be taken up until next year.
Senate Democrats probably got as close this week as they are going to get for the next two years to passing some sort of Medicaid expansion -- but not as close as they are saying publicly.
Earlier this week, the Senate voted 23-19, largely on party lines, to strike down a budget amendment that would have increased state health care programs via Obamacare. But remember, there are 46 senators.
According to the roll call vote, that meant four senators didn’t vote. Three of those had excused absences - - Democrat Clementa Pinckney of Ridgeland, who was expected to vote for expansion, and Republicans Larry Grooms of Bonneau and Danny Verdin of Laurens, who were expected to vote against expansion. That would have made the vote 25-20 to quash expansion.
So, what about the last available vote, Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Conway)? He was in the building that day but did not vote, per state records.
One observer said that many moderate Republicans would join with Democrats in the Senate and vote for expansion … if it were a secret ballot and there were no political ramifications. Interesting.
Pay more than lip service to better government
By Andy Brack, Publisher
MAY 24, 2013 -- You really have to wonder whether South Carolina legislators fully embrace the whole spirit of more accountability and transparency that they squawk about when elections roll around.
With just a couple of weeks left of this year’s legislative session, there’s real concern by some about whether lawmakers will pass a package of ethics reforms being pushed since two recent high profile ethics inquiries.
The first involved Gov. Nikki Haley, who was accused but cleared of lobbying for business as a state representative. Subsequently, Haley empanelled a special ethics policy group to recommend reforms.
The second involved House Speaker Bobby Harrell, whose hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign reimbursements for plane trips last year brought scrutiny, only to be followed by an ethics complaint for using his influence to get business for his drug repackaging company. Harrell returned some of the plane money to his campaign account and has vociferously denied allegations of impropriety. While an investigation continues, Harrell’s House passed ethics reform earlier this year.
The holdup now is in the state Senate, which is expected to consider ethics now that it has finished the budget. But there’s been some finger-pointing of late with Haley saying Democrats were slowing down a bill while others said a few GOP senators were doing the same thing.
S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess, who made the ethics complaint this year about Harrell, is angry about the whole mess. She says proposed ethics reforms really won’t do much to change a culture of corruption that sets South Carolina’s government apart from other states.
“This whole debate is not about ethics reform -- that’s the term they use in the Statehouse,” she said a few days after Haley had a press conference pushing for ethics changes. “This is about corruption, period. Concentration of power in secrecy is a recipe for corruption every time, any time.”
What’s got her miffed -- and she’s got a good point -- is that the current ethics proposals on the table don’t go far enough. Yes, they would give more much-needed authority to the state Ethics Commission to probe complaints against lawmakers, but legislators generally still would be the ultimate arbiter of punishments. Yes, they call for more income disclosure, closing campaign loopholes and getting rid of leadership fund-raising committees, but the proposals aren’t broad enough or have much teeth.
Even more troubling is that so-called ethics reforms don’t address lots of other continuing problems with accountability and transparency at the Statehouse.
An example: the way elected representatives cozy together to elect family members as trustees to state colleges and universities. In recent weeks, lawmakers elected 10 trustees with ties to family members, including at least one who didn’t meet filing deadlines.
“If the members of the General Assembly already know who they want in the position, that’s who’s getting the seat,” said Charleston philanthropist Susan Pearlstine, who lost a seat on the MUSC board to a brother of state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston. “There were so many examples of that with the legislator’s relatives.”
You’d think such legislative collusion would spark outrage to upend the way trustee candidates are screened by requiring them to meet certain standards and involving institutions more. Nope. Instead, lawmakers took a couple of days of bad headlines and moved on with the good-ole-boy system that’s worked for them for years.
There are lots of things the General Assembly could change if it were really serious about increasing transparency and accountability about state government. It could strengthen open records laws, create competitive legislative districts, open the budgeting process more, reduce the overwhelming legislative influence for appointments on countless boards and commissions, and shine sunshine on the process that millions of state tax dollars are awarded as incentives to big businesses that want to move here.
Even if state lawmakers have time this year to pass the ethics reforms that are on the table now, they still have a lot of work to do if they want to make “accountability and transparency” more than an election-time gimmick.
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What's I've learned over 30 years
By REBA CAMPBELL
Special to Statehouse Report
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reba Campbell, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, sent an email around to friends and colleagues about lessons learned in 30 years in business. We thought you’d enjoy these tips as smart things to do for anybody in the workplace as well as new grads starting out in new jobs.
MAY 24, 2013 -- Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of my first day in the work world. I walked into 128 Cannon House Office Building at the U.S. Capitol and started my job as a receptionist for Congressman Robin Tallon after he hired me, sight unseen, over the phone three weeks earlier. It had been nine days since I crossed the stage at USC to get my journalism degree (and paid some $300 to settle up my parking tickets).
I had a head full of big permed hair, big expectations and little idea of what I was supposed to do as an employed and fully responsible adult. Looking back, I didn’t have specific career goals in mind at that point, but I did know what I was good at and the type of work I wanted to pursue. Here, 30 years later, I’ve been fortunate to have a rewarding career that combines my love of writing, communications and politics with my curiosity about people and places.
In 1983, I never dreamed my jobs would give me the chance to travel with a congressional delegation to Taiwan; raise money for causes I believe in; lobby the legislature and Congress for millions of dollars; ride in a fire truck; bike the Golden Gate bridge; get published in national magazines; pick tobacco; work with great S.C. mayors; have pictures made with famous people like Tip O’Neill and Mister Rogers; visit 38 states; work on national, state and local campaigns; stand at the podium in the White House press room; or be in the Statehouse dome the day the Confederate flag came down.
I’ve figured out a few things along the way that I wish someone had told that 22-year old with big hair walking into her first day on the job. Maybe the thoughts below will be helpful to others just starting out.
- Establish you own personal brand. Decide what you want your reputation in the workplace to be and let your actions define you. Keep promises and make deadlines. Under-promise and over-deliver. Avoid behavior in your personal life that could reflect negatively in your professional life (even more true today with all the risks of social media in the mix).
- Seek a mentor. Most mentor relationships happen naturally rather than being established formally. Be on the look-out for them. I bet my best mentors probably don’t know they even served that role.
- Keep up with the news every day. Read the paper, check news websites and blogs, listen to NPR on the way to work. Know what’s in the news about your organization or industry before your boss or client asks.
- Get away from your desk and walk outside at some point during the day. Even if it’s just to walk around the block or grab a sandwich, your brain needs natural light and a whiff of fresh air, and your body needs to stretch.
Plan the work before you work the plan. Having no plan gets you nowhere. Plans will change either by force or circumstance. Be flexible, but have a plan regardless of whether it’s a work project, a trip, a major purchase or an important life decision.
|Common-sense lessons for excelling in the workplace -- for a new grad or someone trying to navigate office politics.|
- Don’t pass up any chance to learn. Find out what your boss or leaders in your profession are reading (books, professional publications, websites, etc). Seek professional development opportunities – even pay for them yourself if necessary.
- Go to your boss with a solution, not a problem. Your boss is problem-solving all day. Make her life easier by presenting a solution when you present a problem. Even if it’s not the solution that ultimately solves the problem, it keeps your boss from dreading seeing you at the door.
- Write thank-you and follow-up notes (hand-written, not email). Technology is good, but the personal touch still matters.
- Travel any chance you get.
- Be interested and inquisitive. Ask good questions and ask them often. Speak up when you have something to offer, but remember to balance your enthusiasm with senior level colleagues’ experience.
- Remember everyone carries their own sack of rocks. You never know what type of personal issues the co-worker who missed a deadline is dealing with at home or with his family.
- Create your own personal style. That doesn’t mean wearing flip flops in a formal corporate environment. Add a spot of color, interesting jewelry, fun scarves or punchy bags…just don’t look exactly like everyone else.
- Don’t come to work sick. No one appreciates the stuffy-nosed martyr. That’s why you have sick days.
- Strive for work/life balance, even though it’s never really balanced. The balance will probably fluctuate daily, but creative outlets, exercise and hobbies make you a more valuable (and sane) employee.
Thanks for attention to poverty
To the editor:
Good to see someone or group with influence focus on deeply entrenched poverty in our region. [Brack commentary, May 17, 2013] Thank you.
-- Carol McClain, Florence, S.C.
Missed real reason causing gerrymandering
To the editor:
You failed to mention the real reason for the political balkanization of political districts [Brack commentary, May 10, 2013] in this and other, mostly Southern, states. Clearly it is because of the mandates of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and its interpretation and enforcement by the Civil Right division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The act required the creation of "electable majority minority districts" and once created to the department's satisfaction, sometimes as high as 60 percent minority voting age population, no regression was thereafter acceptable. No article on this subject is complete, or accurate, without at least a mention of these legal requirements.
-- H. Samuel Stilwell, Greenville, S.C.
NOTE: Stilwell, a Greenville lawyer, is a retired judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals and a former Republican state senator.
Gerrymandering helped Sanford
To the editor:
After the last presidential election, a large section of north of Charleston was annexed from the First Congressional District to the Sixth. This gerrymandering [Brack commentary, May 10, 2013] was to benefit minority Congressman Jim Clyburn. The loss of an area with a large population of lower middle class and working poor helped in the election of Mark Sanford.
-- Donald Windburn, Charleston, S.C.
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From (more) kindergarten to (less) Haley
Kindergarten. Hats off to the state Senate for adding $30 million to its budget to enhance funding for 4-year-old public kindergarten.
Boy Scouts. Will all troops in South Carolina welcome gay scouts? More.
Medicaid. The Senate killed expansion talks for once and all … or until next year. More.
Hurricanes. There’s a busy season projected for state coast. Yikes! More.
Haley. New song? Nikki is the queen of ethics reform, there is none higher / Sucker ethics reformers should call her “sire” / Won’t stop reforming ethics until she retires … Whatever. More.