A visit from the speaker

Well, it's begun.

The Legislature convenes next Tuesday, and in anticipation of that, House Speaker Bobby Harrell came by to see us yesterday afternoon.

On his mind were the following:

  • Number one, the economy. Emphasizing the state's alarming unemployment rate, he said he recently met with Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor to express the speaker's willingness to provide him with whatever tools he needs. After I brought up his past criticism of the agency, Mr. Harrell insisted that we not report him as being critical of Commerce now. The closest he came to anything disparaging was the observation that Commerce had been "scoring points, not winning the game" lately. Other than that, he was Mr. Supportive.
  • Employment Security Commission. You may recall that before Christmas, Mr. Harrell said, "It is inconceivable that Governor Sanford hasn’t already made this
    request of the federal government, and it would be tragic if he allows
    jobless benefits to run out, particularly at this time of year." Now he was at pains to point out that he believes the agency should supply the info the gov wants, and he said he'll sign a letter next week calling for an audit. This is not inconsistent; it's not far from our position — yes, the agency should provide such info readily, no, the governor shouldn't play "chicken" with unemployment benefits.
  • Cigarette tax. As one who once opposed the increase outright, Mr. Harrell now counts himself among those reconciled to its inevitability. The sticking point, as always, is what it should be spent on. (As you now, our position is that whatever you spend it on, it should be passed, because it undoubtedly will reduce teen smoking.) He noted that he supported the governor's veto last year on that score. He would like to see the money (and the federal Medicaid match) spent on making health insurance more available to small businesses. He said Oklahoma has recently shown a way to do that — it would require a waiver from the feds.
  • Education funding formula. My notes were sketchy here, but he was talking about revamping the whole funding system. I'll check with Cindi later to remind me what he said about this; in the meantime consider this a placeholder — I mention it only so that you know it was one of the things that was on his mind. All my notes say is "Education formula… The whole pot… They've been melting… a lot." And I confess that makes little sense to me, much less to you.
  • Roads. He wants more money for road maintenance, but he does not want to raise the gasoline tax, which is how we fund roads in SC. He would instead devote car sales taxes — what little we get in sales tax, given the $300 cap — to roads. He did not specify what he would NOT fund from the general fund to do that.
  • Restructuring. He promised to push for a Dept. of Administration.
  • Tax reform. He said a BRAC-style tax reform commission would be a good idea, but he offered two amendments to what biz leaders have advocated. Rather than have no legislators on the commission, he would have about a fourth of the panel be lawmakers. His reasoning is that lawmakers could school other members as to the feasibility of the ideas (which sounds suspiciously like a way to keep out good ideas the Legislature doesn't like, but maybe that's just me and my suspicious nature). He also said that rather than making it impossible for lawmakers to amend the plan, he would allow for amendment with a big supermajority — say 75 percent. His stated reasoning on that is to prevent some minor technical flaw from sinking the whole plan. He believes the supermajority requirement would eliminate the danger of narrow interests killing the overall plan. One more point on tax reform: He thinks it should be done in two stages — deal with the host of sales tax exemptions first, then the rest of the tax structure.

Those are the main topics he brought up. In answer to questions, he said:

  • A payday lending bill — one to more tightly regulate the industry, but not out of existence — will likely come out of the session.
  • He likes the governor's idea of eliminating the corporate income tax — an idea he traces to Ronald Reagan (at which point all Republicans murmur "Peace Be Upon Him" or something equally reverential). But he doesn't like the idea of eliminating economic incentives.
  • In response to our noting that the governor seems to want to step up his voucher efforts, the Speaker said he's supportive, but doesn't think it will pass.
  • Roll call voting. He defended his rules change to increase transparency, which he believes addresses the "key concerns" — such as spending legislation, the budget overall, anything affecting lawmakers' pay or benefits, ethics or campaign finance and the like. He totally dismissed the idea that his handling of Nikki Haley and Nathan Ballentine was out of line, or anything personal. As for his not telling Nikki in person he was kicking her off the committee, such has "always been done by sending a letter."
  • Cindi was just starting to ask about the one thing liable to occupy most of the House's energy this year — passing a budget in light of plummeting revenues — when the Speaker said he had to leave for another interview for which he was already late (Keven Cohen's show). Rest assured Cindi will follow up. (If I'd realized how short on time we were, I would have insisted we start on that overriding topic earlier.)

One more thing worthy of note: This was the first time Mr. Harrell asked to come in for a pre-session board meeting. Predecessor David Wilkins did it as a more or less annual ritual, bringing his committee chairs (including Mr. Harrell) along with him.

10 thoughts on “A visit from the speaker

  1. Lee Muller

    Harrelson is so wrong on every issue.
    He is a poster boy for bad legislators.
    The state doesn’t have a “revenue problem”. It has a wasteful spending problem. The state has lots more money than it had a few years ago.
    Studies show no benefits to much of the recent educational spending, including old programs like Head Start. Abolish them. It makes no sense to spend more on education when 50% of the students drop out of school. Their problem is a crummy “home life”. It would take a lot less money to fix the morality problem which keeps these children being churned out of the bastard factories.
    The cigarette tax was raised by more than $1.00 a pack in the Tobacco Settlement. Of the $200,000,000 generated annually, about 1% goes to health projects.
    Raise highway fuel taxes during a recession? Super dumb. Infrastructure spending is already at an all-time high under Bush, and they still don’t spend all the money in the airport, bridge, highway and port funds.
    The state is not using all the highway fuel taxes it collects now for highways and roads. It has a surplus, apparently, because they skim millions off for other projects. Of the more than $42 BILLION in federal highway taxes collected, only $13 BILLION are spent on roads.
    Raise the sales tax on automobiles while vehicle sales are down 50% from 2007? That is really dumb. How about repeal the laws which prevent dealerships from being closed and consolidated?
    At least he agrees with Govenor Sanford on eliminating the corporate income tax, so let’s do it, right now.
    And eliminate the taxes on individuals, too.
    If the state was not so hostile to entrepreneurs, it might keep some businesses here other than landscaping and taverns, and grow the economy.

    Reply
  2. Doug Ross

    The State is really missing out on a real opportunity to make the transition to a 21st century information provider.
    How much would it cost to have a web camera capture these meetings with the editorial board?
    Then you wouldn’t have to rely on notes. And those of us who are interested could view the whole thing and form our own opinions instead of getting the bits and pieces that you pass along.
    You’re wasting one of the assets you have at your disposal – access to key figures combined with journalistic expertise.

    Reply
  3. Ralph Hightower

    Unemployment has steadily risen under Governot Sanford’s watch. In 2003, South Carolina was sixth in the nation’s highest unemployment rate. From 2004 to October 2008, South Carolina has been fourth in the nation’s unemployment. In November 2008, South Carolina moved to third place.
    Sanford and his Commerce Department have not done their jobs in recruiting businesses. Instead of bring more businesses, and jobs, into South Carolina, jobs have disappeared or left South Carolina.

    Reply
  4. Doug Ross

    Ralph,
    Can you give us examples of initiatives driven by prior Governors to recruit businesses to come to South Carolina?
    Sanford has proposed many ideas that he believes would help spur on the economy, specifically around corporate tax cuts. But that’s all he can do.
    Our state economy lies squarely in the hands of the legislature. They create the environment.
    You can blame Sanford only if the programs he proposes are implemented and then fail.

    Reply
  5. Lee Muller

    Mr. Hightower, unless you stop the breeding of more unemployed by the illiterates of this state, you are always going to have high unemployment, because so many of them are unfit for any job.
    By the way, now that unemployment is rising, construction is down 50%, and so many people are doing their own yard work, and not dining out, what is the new liberal justification for not deporting the unemployed illegal aliens? Or are the illegals still employed, but just taking jobs from our public school dropouts?

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  6. Ralph Hightower

    Carroll Campbell accomplished more for South Carolina with far less gubernatorial powers than Mark Sanford.
    Mark Sanford has no leadership qualities. Leaders get their items accomplished. Mark Sanford governs by press release and theatrical stunts, none of which is conducive with working with people. Sanford thinks he can snap his fingers and his agenda is done. What Sanford is doing and has done is throw ideas against the wall in the hopes that one of them sticks.
    To earn unemployment benefits, one has to have had a job for at least a year. No prior job, no unemployment benefits. A valid Social Security Number is also required. Illegals found using a stolen SSN should be jailed. All other illegals deported.

    Reply
  7. Lee Muller

    I didn’t say anything about illegal aliens collecting unemployment benefits.
    I asked where is the excuse for not deporting them, now that construction is down 50% and so many US citizens are out of work. There is no “labor shortage”. Never was.
    What kind of “leadership” can an honest man like Governor Sanford use to get a bunch of crooked legislators to repeal all the crap laws they passed in their lifetimes?

    Reply
  8. Doug Ross

    Ralph,
    What specific actions did Carroll Campbell take to improve the SC economy? Can you identify specific businesses that exist today because of his efforts?
    And what about Beasley and Hodges? What did they do to improve the economy?
    It’s too bad people still live in a fantasy world where Carroll Campbell is held up as some sort of savior for the state. He was just a good politician.

    Reply
  9. WWB

    Herr Muller,
    Just exactly who named you the High Priest and arbiter of who gets born in this state. Just exactly how do you propose to prevent “illiterates” from “breeding” as you so eloquently put it.You have reached a new low in disgusting posts.

    Reply
  10. Lee Muller

    First, those who claim to be community leaders or racial leaders need to support healthy family life and stigmatize irresponsible sexual behavior which results in so many unwanted black children.
    Second, the government has to stop encouraging illegitimate births with its programs for Food Stamps, WIC, housing, free medical care, and pregancy support programs in our schools. That sends a message of approval and encouragement the whore mentality.
    Third, break the cycle of having babies for government money. Perhaps take the babies away from these irresponsible mothers and raise them in foster homes, so they do not become the next generation of dropout whores and criminals.
    Fourth, perhaps mandatory birth control like Norplant, or surgical sterilization of both the mother and father of any child born out of wedlock, or of a second child on welfare for some length of time.
    If you don’t like morality, responsibility, social stigma, and economic disincentives, give us your solutions. Obviously, liberalism doesn’t help these people.

    Reply

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