South Carolina State Government
From the Jan 13-19 Freetimes edition.
It was noted by the “Freetimes” that Hugh Leatherman was not at January 7th’s legislative workshop held on the State Grounds. Mr. Leatherman holds the position of a SC State Senator from Florence AND the Senate Finance Committee. Mr. Harvey Peeler, a fellow Republican senator, made the humorous but grim comment that he (Senator Leatherman) was probably “in Florence, looking in the mirror and practicing saying ‘no’ 1.7 billion times.” What you may not know is that the state has undergone numerous, and may I dare to say traumatic, mid-year cuts in the recent years. Rep. Dan Cooper (Republican chair of House Ways and Means Committee) says “We’re going to have to eliminate a lot of state government to find $500 million.” I bet, if the common Joe were to look at their budget, we could trim a lot of fat off of the government where it wouldn’t hurt the people so much. How about reducing the expenditures of State Congressman? The Governor? Some suggestions from Cooper was “how to address budget volatility long-term, the possible abolishment of the position of lieutenant governor, reformation of DHEC and the Employment Security Commission, and the possibility of making the Department of Mental Health a cabinet-level agency.”
Budget Crisis Continues
The 2010-11 budget goes in effect July 1st. It has been duly noted that there is a $560 million hole in the budget before we even get to the starting point. There are several things that helped create this. Things to point out that contributed to this. Sales-tax revenues were low again this year. Since fiscal year 2006-7, state revenues have dropped 24% (according to Les Boles, director of the Office of the State Budget). Revenues for 2010-11 are estimated to be $5.6 billion, helping to create the leanest state budget in years. Even as the revenues continue to fall, the residents needing Medicare and other assistance continues to rise. There was also a $100 million shortfall from Act 388 (which granted homeowners property-tax relief). While it immediately helped homeowners, it has really caused problems on the other end of the spectrum. Is this an example of not thinking things out? Who’s to know? And finally noted, is an original $100 million deficit that existed before the 2009-10 budget year even started, and considering that hole has grown to $560 million for the next fiscal year, I shudder to see how that will affect the 2011-12 fiscal year. It has been estimated that the hole that will need to be plugged (barring an unexpected rise in revenues or more stimulus money from the feds) will be about $1.3 billion. Why is that we, as citizens, are expected to run in the black, but our government cannot?
A 4-point proposals has been pushed by House Speaker (Rep) Bobby Harrell and Senate President (Rep) Glenn McConnell. They want to increase the amount going into the general reserve fund from 3 to 5% of the state revenues. The idea is to put away money during the good times for a “rainy day”. My question is that if they are already in the red, shouldn’t they be putting it towards the red. But then again, that’s just me. From what I understand, the reserve fund is accessible to the legislators at the beginning of the fiscal year, and this causes them to look at it as a slush fund. Personally, I don’t think it should be available to them, at all. When they deal with things financial, I don’t think they should even consider this reserve fund. They stated something about “faster and more automatic triggers” for budget cuts. I’m not sure EXACTLY what that means. The simple statement also included establishing a commission to prioritize state programs and recommend cuts, but I’m sure that anything that has to do with the income of the ones in charge would not be up for negotiation.
Censure And Move One
They made it a point to bring up to vote in the House to censure Governor Mark Sanford’s 2009 ethical exploits. This is beating a dead horse, folks. Let’s just make sure that he pays back everything that he was not allowed to take, and move on. Quit wasting the tax payers’ money. While Senator McConnell says that this is a waste of time if it’s not dealt with quickly, longtime Sanford enemy Jake Knotts (Lexington Republican) claims that the censure process has been and is “a political whitewash”. It’s thought that he will hold up the censure vote which will cause a 12-month wait on the vote, and push for an investigation. Come on, Jake. Quit wasting our time and money. As long as he pays back everything he is supposed to, then move on. If you want to do something, then just keep tabs on the pay back process (rolls my eyes).
Does S.C. Need A Lieutenant Governor?
It’s been proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that during the Sanford Scandal (wow! It has its own name now!), that the position of Lieutenant Governor may not even be necessary. While the position is similar to the role as a vice president is to the president, it may be impractical or unrealistic. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor are not voted on the same ballot. In this case, Sanford and current Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer are not political allies. Bauer has expressed his desire to run for the governor position, and had Sanford been impeached or stepped down, this would have given an unfair advantage to Bauer over any other candidates. It’s important to note that Bauer has formally announced his candidacy. While it seems like duties of the Governor should be left to the Lieutenant Governor when the Governor is out of town, they frequently leave the Chief of Staff in charge. So is the position of Lieutenant Governor really necessary? Lawmakers are now debating whether it would be more beneficial to put the Governor and Lieutenant Governor on the same ballot, or eliminate the position all together. Senator Larry Martin (Pickens County Republican) has stated that the only thing that needs to be done is to establish a line of succession. He states that, if necessary, “power could pass to the Senate President, Speaker of the House, or a cabinet official”. I looked up his role on http://ltgov.sc.gov/LtGov/ and all I could find was that he would take over the duties of Governor if the Governor was “unable to perform the duties of that office”, and is the Presiding Officer and called upon to make significant rulings which affect the outcome of Senate votes and debates. In 2004, his duties were expanded to oversee the Office of Aging (to be an Advocate of senior citizens). And the site brags that the office “aids the needs of over 34,000 seniors and works to enhance the quality of life for over 717,000 South Carolina senior citizens”. I personally don’t think the position is needed, and the Office of Aging can be passed to another person. Eliminate the position and save the tax payers’ money.
Education Cuts, Continued
While most politicians won’t come right out and tell you which services they are willing to cut, sadly, many aren’t afraid to point the finger at education. Personally, I don’ think they should touch education. Two in particular, House Minority Leader Harry Ott (Democrat of Calhoun County) and Senator Harvey Peeler (Republican of Cherokee County) said they would “suspend indefinitely” some programs in state schools including Physical Education and stop paying bonuses for teachers who achieve National Board certification. In a time period where SC ranked 5th heaviest in 2007 and 2008, I don’t think eliminating physical education would be a wise thing. In this day and age, people circle parking lots for 15-20 minutes looking for that “up close” spot instead of walking a distance through the parking lot. Nearly 30% of adult South Carolinians, 14.4% of high school students, and 33.7% of children aged 10-17 (ranking 13th nationally) are obese. This signifies a problem to me. For you, as the tax payer, the fact that the medical costs of obesity, per capita in 2003 was $256, should grab your attention. That’s the cost in 2003, not 2009.
I also think that the more educated and certified our teachers are, the more or students benefit. Do you realize that the state of South Carolina ranks 24th nationally as the most teacher friendly? http://teacherportal.com/salary/South-Carolina-teacher-salary The average teacher salary in SC ranks 30th nationally. When will you folks start realizing that education is so important? Peeler also added that he would eliminate the Education Oversight Committee, which he feels “duplicates the work of the Department of Education”. According to the website, the Education Oversight Committee “The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC) is an independent, nonpartisan group made up of 18 educators, business people, and elected officials who have been appointed by the legislature and governor to enact the South Carolina Education Accountability Act of 1998. The Act sets standards for improving the state’s K-12 educational system.” http://eoc.sc.gov/ I don’t think it to be wise to eliminate, per say, the EOC, as it is important to keep the educators, themselves, involved in things. Perhaps, what would be wiser, is to include the EOC into the Department of Education.. ?
For those of you who don’t know, ESC means Employment Security Commission. These are the folks that are responsible for handing out the unemployment checks. Just so you know, the unemployment deficit is now $633 million, and could potentially clear $1.5 billion before the fiscal year is up. While some politicians are pointing at raising unemployment insurance taxes, Rep Kenny Bingham (Rep Lexington County) stresses that the repercussions of doing so could hurt business recruitment. Bingham also is not satisfied with the agency being run by three commissioners. The agency did not notify the legislature in a timely manner about the unemployment funds running dangerous low, nor did it share detailed unemployment information with the Commerce Department. And while we shouldn’t go to the extreme as Governor Mark Sanford did in literally holding unemployment checks hostage at one point in his fight with the agency, something obviously needs to be done. There appears to be a lack of communication that definitely needs to be addressed.
Poor record keeping has been exposed by the Sanford investigations. FOIA means State and Federal Freedom of Information Act laws. Currently, these laws require governmental agencies to keep precise records and make them available to the general public. Personally, I’ve been trying to get the financial records of the SC Educational Lottery, to determine just how much of the so-called “educational” lottery is going towards education. The Sanford investigations have shown that there is no “standard” set across the board for all governmental agencies. James Smith (Democrat of Richland County) wants to see “a unified retention policy for records”, but does not offer any standards for the general public to receive said records. It’s also suggested to set up a process of dispute resolution for the FOIA appeals. It appears that lawmakers are open to this idea, at least “unwilling to oppose it in a room full of reporters,” says the FreeTimes. Sen. John M. “Jake” Knotts, Jr. (Rep of Lexington County) makes a very to-the-point comment: “If you don’t ‘have anything to hide, why hide behind FOIA?” Might want to ask the CIA and Obama that one.
Health Agency Reform
Accusations have been flying about several state agencies. To examples are poor environmental oversight on the part of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, lax licensing and sloppy use of funds on the part of the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN). While splitting the DHEC into two agencies, one for health and the other for environmental control, Sen. Danny Verdin (Rep. Laurens County) the committee will recommend against it as heavily as recommending against merging several other health agencies into one big agency. It is felt that the Department of Mental Health would have better oversight and be more accountable to the governor if it is made a cabinet agency. They would like to shift some responsibilities away from the DDSN, which they feel is overburdened.
The unemployment rate of SC for 2009 was 12.3 in 2009. (Source: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.nr0.htm ) Some say that the government is supposed to create jobs, not attract revenue. I don’t see why it can’t be both. In attracting Boeing’s second 787 line, they attracted revenue AND created jobs. And while Boeing is wonderful revenue, and does attract jobs, the government has kept it hush-hush about what they had to do to attract Boeing. Charleston County council members voted for an incentives package that values more than $55 million. Boeing will enjoy a huge property tax break, paying only 4% for 30 years instead of the typical 10.5% industries taxed. While Boeing will pay out about $188 million in taxes over the 30-year agreement, a special revenue credit will give the company back $50 million in the first 15 years. In this, the company will get a break on state corporate income taxes. Boeing was also granted a $5 million grant to help with their site preparations. The County of Charleston is setting aside $150,000 to conduct a traffic study of the airport area. Berkeley Electric is helping out with a grant of $100,000 to help with infrastructure. Steve Dykes, the county’s director of economic development said “the county was just playing by the conditions Boeing set up.” In attracting this company, they also “lost” potential tax money. I suppose it is a give and take scenario. While Sen. Harvey S. Peeler, Jr. (Republican – Cherokee County) stated “Government doesn’t create jobs, but it sure can run jobs away.” House Minority Leader Harry L. Ott, Jr (Democrat – Calhoun County) stressed that Peeler has been in charge for 20 years. Ott also said “You all have run this ship, and the fact is you’ve run it aground.”
Sparks Over TRAC
TRAC is Tax Realignment Commission. It is the hopes of the General Assembly that this body will review the SC tax system from top to bottom and finding places that they can eliminate sales tax exemptions while maintaining a business-friendly tax code. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (Democrat – Orangeburg) points out that while the body does not have the authority to look at Act 388, it has been called upon to make up for the lost revenue that Act 388 has caused (Act 388 cut property taxes and offset the lost revenue with a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax). Since the revenue from sales taxes has been in decline, school districts have been suffering. Legislators have been having to look elsewhere for the money for property tax rebates. She also points out that it’s not right to have these problems pushed onto unelected commissions and calls for legislators to make the tough decisions themselves. Since the Republicans have control of the General Assembly, they don’t seem exactly eager to take another look at Act 388. Perhaps because they benefit from it? Senate Leader McConnell calls it “an unconstitutional delegation to an outside body.”