Category Archives: Legislature

Cindi Scoppe’s litany of the trouble Bobby Harrell is in

After crushing Bobby Harrell’s explanation that he just wrote down some wrong dates on his spending disclosures, Cindi Scoppe, in her column today, went into this litany of trouble the ex-speaker is in, even if you do swallow his “wrong date” defense:

If in fact he “did travel in his private airplane on a personal trip, transporting himself, family and friends to Florida for a high school baseball tournament” and then paid himself nearly $3,900 from his campaign account, as the indictment alleges, that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “used his campaign account to pay credit card debt and to pay for goods and services for his home, family and friends,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … changing and altering the entries in his pilot log book,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … creating schedules of flights in order to justify payments from his campaign account, when in fact some of the listed flights did not occur or were personal and not related to any official or campaign purpose,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … misinforming law enforcement officers about the purposes and circumstances surrounding expenditures,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by … misinforming the House Ethics Committee about the reason he reimbursed his campaign account,” that’s not careless reporting.

If in fact he did all that, I’m not sure why there weren’t more chareges. Much of that sounds a lot to me like obstruction of justice. Sort of like that ominous reference to his paying himself nearly $300,000 “in untaxed income” sounds a lot to me like state and federal income tax evasion…

Bobby Harrell suspends himself — or tries to, anyway

This broke earlier today:

House Speaker Bobby Harrell suspended himself Thursday from the House of Representatives and transferred his duties as speaker to his next in command.

The suspension came the day after the Charleston Republican was indicted on nine charges, including illegally using campaign money for his personal expenses, filing false campaign disclosure reports and misconduct in office….

Harrell’s suspension, he said in the letter, is effective immediately. He transferred his duties to speaker pro tempore Jay Lucas during his suspension.

But an advisory opinion by Solicitor General Robert D. Cook, requested by two Democratic House members, said Harrell cannot suspend himself because the indictments disqualify him from participating in business of public office.

Instead, the indictments require the speaker pro tempore to act immediately to suspend Harrell…

A good deal of confusion, no doubt arising in part from the fact that this is pretty much a new situation for everyone involved.

Meanwhile, I ran across this webpage from just a fortnight ago, when Harrell’s prospects for hanging on looked excellent. What a difference an aggressive prosecutor and a grand jury can make…

Harrell then

SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell indicted

When state Attorney General Alan Wilson handed off his investigation of Speaker Bobby Harrell to First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, Harrell went around doing victory laps, as though it meant he was in the clear.

This afternoon, Pascoe announced that a Richland County grand jury had indicted the speaker. Pascoe’s statement:

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe announces that the Richland County Grand Jury indicted Robert W. Harrell, Jr., Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, today on nine charges. The nine indictments are for two counts of Misconduct in Office (statutory and common law), six counts of Using Campaign Funds for Personal Use, and one count of False Reporting Candidate Campaign Disclosures.

A bond hearing date has not been set. Mr. Harrell has been provided copies of his indictments but he will be allowed to formally accept service of the true billed indictments and attend his bond hearing on the same date.

Once the date for service of the indictments and the bond hearing is set, the First Circuit Solicitor’s Office will provide ample notice to the media of the date and time. Solicitor Pascoe stated, “At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations. Mr. Harrell is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Solicitor Pascoe will have no further comment regarding this matter and respectfully requests that the media not contact his office regarding the case against Mr. Harrell. Any requests for indictments or future filings in this case should be directed to the Richland County Clerk of Court.

If you want to read the indictment itself, here it is.

Well, Mr. Pascoe certainly wasted no time on that. He’s either a really fast worker, or Mr. Wilson had already built him a pretty good case, it seems to me…

Here’s who voted to keep Adell Adams on election board

election vote

A screenshot from the minutes of the Sept. 5 meeting.

OK, now I have an answer to the burning question of who voted to keep incumbent Adell Adams on the Richland County election board. Here they are:

Here’s a link to the entire minutes, which include how everyone voted. The minutes were emailed to me this morning by Kimberly Janha, the legislative services coordinator for the delegation.

And once the strange weighted voting was fully tabulated (senators got more than representatives, and they were also weighted by the proportion of their districts in the county), here’s how the candidates fared:

  1. E. Peter Kennedy — 93.75 %
  2. Marjorie Johnson — 80.23 %
  3. Jane Dreher Emerson — 58.35 %
  4. Sylvia Holley — 56.36 %
  5. Adell Adams — 47.70 %
  6. Elaine Dubose — 41.64 %
  7. Christopher Kenney — 30.95 %
  8. Eric Mohn — 28.68 %
  9. Robert Tyson — 24.24 %
  10. William Spillane — 18.11 %
  11. Ken Gaines — 10.02 %
  12. Joanne Johnson and Pamela Sumter — 0 %

You’ll see that Ms. Adams was the only one elected with less than 50 percent — whatever that means, with this odd weighted system.

Still no word on which lawmakers voted to keep Adell Adams

Here it is the next day, and neither I nor anyone else has been able to report to you the most relevant information from yesterday’s Richland County legislative delegation meeting — specifically, which lawmakers voted for which candidates for the county election board.

So basically, I can’t report to you, as voters, the one bit of information that allows you to hold people you elect accountable for their actions.

As I mentioned yesterday in a comment, I called the number that Nathan Ballentine had given me for the delegation secretary. I was assured that the information was being compiled, and that it would be sent to me via email.

Why that would take any time at all, I don’t know. It probably has something to do with the decision by the lawmakers to use paper ballots rather than a voice vote, and to weight the votes to give senators more of a say than House members. Maybe. I don’t know.

In any case, Friday came and went, and I don’t have the information. Neither did Dawn Hinshaw:

Efforts late Friday to find out who voted for Adams were unsuccessful. Legislative members opted to cast votes on paper, rather than by voice. They also used a system giving senators’ votes more weight….

I did learn from Dawn’s story (she was there; I was not) that four lawmakers made a point of voting for no incumbents. Two were, as I reported yesterday, Reps. Nathan Ballentine and Beth Bernstein. The others voting for an entirely new broom were Rep. Mia McLeod and Sen. Joel Lourie.

Rep. Leon Howard

Rep. Leon Howard

She also reported that one representative, Leon Howard, spoke during the meeting in favor of keeping Adell Adams on the board, citing the importance of retaining “institutional knowledge.” So I guess he voted for her, but I don’t know it. And I don’t know who else did.

When I know, you’ll know.

I see that WIS quoted Todd Rutherford as also speaking in favor of institutional memory…

Also… as I keep Googling around… Eva Moore at Free Times reported that Sen. John Courson said he would vote only for nonincumbents. So that’s five.

But no one is reporting how all the delegation members voted.

Not QUITE a new start for Richland Election Commission

Well, the Richland County legislative delegation finally met today, and chose a new election commission.

That is, an almost-new election commission.

The bad news is that longtime member Adell Adams got to stay on. She was one of two incumbents seeking reelection to the commission, and she got to stay. The good news is that Elaine DuBose, the other incumbent, did get replaced, by Pete Kennedy — described as “a watchdog of the board since 2012’s debacle.”

Actually, I suppose there’s more good news in that there are three other new members: Marjorie Johnson, Sylvia Holley & Jane Emerson.

I was unable to make it to the meeting, and the question I’m burning to have the answer to is this: WHO voted to keep Adell Adams on?

All I know so far is that Nathan Ballentine didn’t vote for her:


And yesterday, Beth Bernstein told me that she did not intend to vote for any incumbents, either.

Beyond that, I don’t know.

Here’s the brief item on thestate.com, and here you can find Tweets from Dawn Hinshaw, who covered the meeting.

Unfortunately, most can’t answer this ‘trivia’ question

Still promoting their legislative scorecard, Conservation Voters of South Carolina have been sending out trivia questions to call attention to the data.

Here’s the most recent:

Final Trivia Question (and maybe the most important)

Who is your Senator and Representative and what is their score?

Don’t forget-there really is a prize.

Good luck,

Yeah… first, that’s not trivia.

Second, if you think people are going to be able to answer it, think again.

Back when we were doing the Power Failure series, I assigned a reporter to go out and ask people who their legislators were. My point was to illustrate what a rotten idea it was to leave in the hands of lawmakers functions that in other states would be handled by a governor. How do you hold someone accountable if you don’t even know who that person is?

Well, the reporter failed in his task even more spectacularly than I had planned. After days of trying, he had not found a single person out on the street who could answer the question.

About that time, I happened to see on a downtown street a car with the bumper sticker, “Do you know who your legislator is?” I took down the license number, we tracked down the driver, and the story became about this one smart woman who knew and cared.

I’m guessing that the ratio between South Carolinians who know which celebrities got their nude photos hacked and South Carolinians who know who their lawmakers are is probably about 10 to one. And yet these are the people passing the laws we live by…

By the way, Project Vote Smart provides a handy way to find out who represents you.

Little-noticed fact: Sheheen has had a stellar legislative year

I don’t disagree with any of the “experts” who say Nikki Haley is the favorite to win the gubernatorial election this year.

But I do take exception to this observation:

The panelists stopped short of criticizing Sheheen, whom Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon called “a great candidate” because he came so close to knocking off Haley last time. But when asked by Bierbauer what Sheheen has done in the past four years to strengthen himself as a candidate, they mostly kept silent….

That silence suggests something that we frequently hear here, particularly from Doug: That Sheheen hasn’t been a leader in his job as state senator.

Sheheen has done little to  tout his successes as a lawmaker.

Sheheen has done little to tout his successes as a lawmaker.

Actually, in terms of being a guy who gets things done in the Legislature, Sheheen has done quite a lot.

In the past year, significant progress was made on two things that Sheheen has been pushing vocally and visibly: The elimination of the Budget and Control Board and 4k expansion.

Argue how much of that was Sheheen if you’d like. For instance, his opponent had identified herself strongly with the restructuring initiative. But the fact is that Sheheen was pushing this bill, and working on his colleagues to promote it, since well before Nikki Haley ever decided to run for governor. (Which is kind of how long it takes for a good idea to seep into the heads of a majority of lawmakers.)

Those aren’t his only accomplishments. He was a significant player in the ban on texting-while-driving. The first two are much more impressive to me, however, as reflecting the kinds of strategic, fundamental changes that we need for South Carolina to progress.

What puzzles me is that we don’t see Sheheen touting these successes as a reason to vote for him. Instead, we see money and effort wasted on repeated attempts to get folks angry at the incumbent about the Department of Revenue hacking.

I don’t know why…

See how Conservation Voters scored SC lawmakers

header_scorecard_03

This came in this afternoon from Rebecca Haynes with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina:

Conservation Voters,

Do you know who is voting for or against protecting the natural resources that drive South Carolina’s economy? You do now. Check out our interactive 2013-2014 Legislative Scorecard. Based on the Conservation Common Agenda’s legislative priorities for 2013-2014, we score how House and Senate members vote on bills important to the conservation community.

Before the 2013 – 2014 legislative session, CVSC convened conservation groups across the state to agree upon collective priorities for the state legislature over the next two years. Our Conservation Common Agenda included fully funding the Conservation Bank, protecting wetlands and the coastal shoreline, upholding environmental regulations, opposing out-of-state waste and removing barriers to solar energy as the top “to-dos” at the State House.

We organized meetings with elected leaders and constituents and visited editorial boards prior to session. We were at the Capitol from January to June educating legislators across party lines about our priorities and calling upon South Carolinians to communicate support of or opposition to priority bills as they moved through the legislature.

Check out which bills were scored and how your legislator faired on the “Conservation Counts Scorecard” website at www.cvsc.org/scorecard.

Our conservation community is already hard at work on issues that failed to move forward such as surface water withdrawals, ethics and transportation spending reforms.

Here’s the page where you can look up each individual lawmaker’s score, and here’s a graphic about the State House overall.

Sheheen’s plan for roads (first, no gas tax increase, which is a BAD thing…)

Vincent Sheheen has presented his plan for fixing roads in South Carolina, and right off the bat, he loses me by saying he wouldn’t do the most obvious thing that needs to be done — increase the gas tax in order to pay for it all.

Here’s his release:

Sheheen Releases Plan to Rebuild Roads & Bridges
Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to responsibly invest in infrastructure and restore safety after years of neglect
Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action to rebuild roads and bridges in South Carolina. The plan lays out a responsible course of action to improve safety and efficiency of the state’s infrastructure immediately and for the long term.
Sen. Sheheen’s plan centers around four key components that will increase accountability and lead the state to responsibly invest in infrastructure without having to raise the gas tax: adopt a Fix it First approach to focus on repairing roads before building new ones; reorganize the Department of Transportation to save money, improve accountability, and be more efficient in choosing what gets repaired; issue bonds for an immediate one-time infusion of money to get investments started and create jobs; each year, automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to rebuilding our roads.
This plan of action comes after three years of total neglect to South Carolina’s roads and bridges by Nikki Haley that have left only 15 percent of South Carolina’s roads listed as “in good condition,” left thousands of bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete,” and made the state’s rural roads the most dangerous in the country according to a new study. The Governor has refused to release a plan on roads until after November’s election.
View Sen. Sheheen’s plan to rebuild roads and bridges, as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina, at www.vincentsheheen.com. His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” includes an entire chapter on improving transportation infrastructure and is free and also available online, here.
Honest Leadership & Real Accountability to Rebuild SC Road & Bridges
Under Nikki Haley’s administration, South Carolina’s roads, bridges, rail lines, and waterways are in desperate need of repair after years of neglect.
South Carolina had the fifth highest rate of traffic fatalities in the country, according to the US Census. Our rural roads are the deadliest rural roads in the nation, according to a new report released this month. In fact, only 15 percent of our roads are classified as “in good condition” with thousands of our bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete.”
South Carolina’s families, businesses and taxpayers in general deserve so much better from their government. South Carolina needs honest leadership and real accountability to responsibly fix the roads and bridges – we need a Governor who will make infrastructure a priority.
As a small business owner, and an attorney who has helped families and small businesses grow and succeed, Vincent understands that economic activity depends on a good and viable transportation system. Having reliable roads and bridges is vital to growing the economy from within and attracting companies from out of state. Similarly, as the father of three boys and a native South Carolinian, Vincent knows how imperative it is for families to have safe roads and bridges. Taxpaying citizens should not have to fear for their safety while driving down a road in their town or across a bridge in their community.  And we shouldn’t be embarrassed when visitors come to our state by our dreadful highways.
Adopt a “Fix It First” Approach
South Carolina has the nation’s fourth largest state-maintained transportation network. Additions place an increased burden on an already overburdened maintenance program. If we can’t afford to maintain roads we already have, how can we afford to build new ones? It’s time for honest leadership and a common-sense approach where we fix our roads first.
Vincent’s plan of action
  • Issue an executive order to require the Department of Transportation to adopt the Fix it First rule he has promoted in the Senate.
  • Appoint a Transportation Director to be accountable and use the limited resources to secure the safety of the existing roads.
  • Set benchmarks on Fix-It-First projects to tackle our most crumbling roads first. Hold the DOT accountable to those benchmarks and provide monthly updates on projects to improve transparency.
Transform how we pay to maintain our roads & bridges. 
Currently South Carolina is heavily reliant on the gas tax, which generates about $500 million per year and accounts for 71 percent of all state highway funding. But the gas tax is a declining source of revenue as cars become more fuel efficient. Increasing the gas tax is not going to solve our transportation funding crisis. To succeed, the state must diversify funding and weave together sources to responsibly invest over the long-term.  Because of historic underinvestment in our roads we need to create an additional dedicated funding source and issue bonds to jumpstart needed investments.
Vincent’s plan of action:
  • Issue bonds to fund long-term investment.
    • The use of infrastructure is enjoyed by generations of our citizens. Just like a family takes out a responsible mortgage to buy a house for their long-term success, bonding is a responsible way to invest over multiple years in the future that will help families and businesses alike. The use of bonds would allow the state to inject a tremendous one-time infusion of funds needed to bring our roads up to standards while using other sources of revenue to maintain their integrity.
  • Dedicate five percent of General Fund revenue for roads.
    • As a state, we must decide that road funding is such a priority to deserve a portion of general tax revenue — especially surplus revenue. As governor, Vincent would put forth a budget to phase in the automatic dedication of five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to Department of Transportation to repair our roads and bridges.
  • Investigate other sources of revenue.
    • Honest leadership means bringing people together and considering many new ideas while building a bipartisan coalition to move forward and deliver results. As Governor, Vincent will explore potential revenue sources to pay for the repair of roads and bridges, including:
      • Lease rest areas to private businesses to establish gas and food sales at rest stops and generate new revenue.
      • Investigate an out-of-state truck tax to gather funds from those out-of-state who use our roads but don’t pay anything to maintain them. This will generate funds and make South Carolina more competitive with other states’ approaches.
 
Make the Department of Transportation more accountable
People expect and deserve a government that works and works well – and when it doesn’t, they deserve real accountability. South Carolina can fund its priorities by cracking down on waste, mismanagement, and incompetence to put politics aside and focus on getting results.
Vincent’s plan of action: 
  • Restructure of the state Department of Transportation to make the director answer directly to the governor
  • Abolish the DOT Commission to allow the legislature and governor to manage and set road funding and policy and to increase accountability.
  • Increase oversight from the legislature so that with new leadership we could have real accountability.
  • Combine the State Infrastructure Bank with the Department of Transportation to provide a consolidated and accountable approach to road improvements and maintenance.
View this release online, here.

Yes, restructuring DOT — as we failed to do in 1993, and again in 2007 (because, in both cases, the General Assembly did not want to reform DOT) — is a great idea. It’s a no-brainer, something that should have been done long, long ago.

And I commend Sen. Sheheen for presenting a plan, instead of playing the game that Nikki Haley is playing — saying she’ll have a plan for us, but only after the election.

But if announcing your plan before the election means you feel compelled to avoid the most obvious way of paying for your proposal, then something important is lost.

Again, we have a way to pay for roadwork. It’s the gasoline tax. It has been held artificially, ridiculously low for far too long. There’s no need to run all over creation trying to find some other way to pay for infrastructure when we have a way to do it already. It’s a particularly bad idea to cut into funding available for all the other functions of government that don’t have a dedicated funding stream (“automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund”), to pay for a governmental function that does have a dedicated funding stream — a common-sense one tied to use.

The importance of understanding politicians (and media types) as people

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks...

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks…

Having heard my limit of cynical statements bordering on paranoia, I resolved, on live radio over the weekend, to do The Most Daring Thing a Journalist Can Ever Do.

I decided to stick up for politicians. And for the media, for that matter.

I learned long ago, well before I started blogging, that the surest way to be the target of derision and contempt — from the public, and even one’s peers — is to praise someone in politics. It’s way more damaging to your reputation than criticizing people. We’re expected to do that. And those of you who know me know that I do my share of that. (In fact, some of you claim, hyperbolically, that it’s all I do, when the subject is Mark Sanford or Nikki Haley.)

But just let me say something laudatory about a politician — say, Lindsey Graham, who I believe is more deserving of such defense than anyone in high office in our state — and here comes the tsunami of cynicism. (Try to say “tsunami of cynicism” several times really fast.)

Journalists tend to relish the criticism that comes from being critical. It means we’re tough, and hard-hitting. Nobody pulls the wool over our eyes! We’re no saps. Cutting remarks make us sound like John Lennon. Saying nice things makes us sound like Paul McCartney. And everybody knows which one was the cool one, right?

Anyway, as Sunday’s show wore on, I endured a number of cynical remarks about media, politics and politicians, letting them pass by because of my long experience of knowing how hard it is to change people’s minds when they say things like, “They just stress all that negative stuff to sell papers,” or, “You can’t trust the MSM because they take advertising and are in the grip of corporate America,” or “He’s no different from all politicians; they’re all crooks.” (These are reconstructions; I wasn’t taking notes. But I’ve heard these kinds of comments SO many times.)

But finally, I couldn’t sit still, and I explained:

  • People who think advertisers control content in a newspaper have probably never worked at one. In my 35 years in newspapers, most of it as an editor, I never once was involved in a decision that was in any way influenced by money considerations, either involving advertising or circulation. (The only way money affected what we did was that the lack of it prevented us from having the people we needed, or to pay for travel, to do everything we wanted.) I DID find myself making decisions that I knew made life miserable for the ad people, and even lost the paper money. I mentioned a situation in which we took, and maintained (and the newspaper maintains to this day) an editorial position that cost the paper hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years. That didn’t make me happy or anything, but it had no impact on our position.
  • As for Will Folks’ assertion that we were supportive of lawmakers he despises because of the newspaper industry’s sales tax exemptions, I had to ask how he explained our ongoing repeated calls, year in and year out, for comprehensive tax reform that would put all exemptions on the table? (Doug likes to talk about that one, saying we should have called specifically for eliminating the newspaper exemption. But the truth was, I’ve never seen that one as in any way more egregious than the rest, and I would have been lying, and grandstanding, to say otherwise.)
  • Those who say this or that gets published because “it sells newspapers” don’t understand what makes journalists tick. There CAN be the temptation to be sensational, and we’re always trying to grab your attention, but not for anything so normal and sensible (the way most people see the world) as selling papers. What we wanted, what we want, is to be read. In terms of indulging my deep-seated need, no one had to buy the paper. They could steal it, just as long as they read it. Bryan loved that. After he wrote about it on his blog, I felt compelled to explain a bit. It’s not that I was advocating stealing the newspaper, mind you…
  • People talk about there being too much “bad news.” Well, I’m sorry, but to a great extent, the definition of news is something that has gone wrong. You don’t report on the 10,000 cars that pass a certain intersection safely in the course of a day; you report on the fatal wreck that occurred there. You don’t write about the thousands of buildings that didn’t catch fire; you report on the one that burned down. And you don’t write about the vast majority of politicians who are honest and doing their best; you write about the ones who are derelict and/or have their hands in the till — because that’s what people, as voters, need a heads-up about.
  • On that last point… I blame my profession, and particularly my generation of Watergate-influenced journalists, for the cynicism about government and politics that infects so many in our society today, from Will Folks and many other bloggers to the Tea Party to some of our best friends here on the blog. Maybe that’s one case where we DID overemphasize the “bad news.” We were so adversarial toward public officials and public institutions, so aggressive in chasing after scandal — and (seemingly sometimes) nothing but scandal — that we created an indelible impression among the reading and viewing public that government is a bad thing full of bad people. When it isn’t. We’re just trying to let you know about the bad parts that need addressing.

When I stated that probably 90-something percent of politicians were good people trying to do the best by their lights for their communities (even though they might, in my opinion, be really wrong about what’s best), Will erupted in derision, both on the air and on Twitter:

But I insisted it was true. I might think most of the things lawmakers try to do is stupid sometimes, but I don’t doubt their sincerity or honest intentions. As for the idea that people go into public life to enrich themselves monetarily — well, they’re really have to be stupid to do that, because the greater potential is definitely in the private sector, and the chance of getting caught is a lot lower than in public office.

Not that there aren’t some politicians for whom the pathetic renumeration that legislators receive is the best job they ever had. We had some people like that in the Legislature in the late 80s and early 90s. Lost Trust caught people selling their votes for pathetically small things, such as a new suit or some such.

Lost Trust was the low point in South Carolina, leading to indictments of 10 percent of the Legislature. But I turned that around to say that, when an aggressive federal prosecutor did his best to catch every lawmaker open to bribery or some other form of corruption… he could only get 10 percent. Which fits my 90ish-percent thesis.

Bottom line, people in politics are people, like any other. Oh, they may be more extroverted and given to exhibitionism of a sort, but they are not worse than other people. They might not be the wise solons that they should be — and I, for one, would prefer that they were a good deal wiser than average — but they’re just people.

So are journalists, for that matter, just to come full circle…

Another long and winding road to infrastructure funding

Several days ago now, Rep. Bakari Sellers responded to our discussion of funding for road construction and maintenance thusly:

I told him I’d take a look at it. Which I just now did. Here’s the summary of the bill:

TO AMEND SECTION 11-11-220, CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, RELATING TO THE CONTINGENCY RESERVE FUND, SO AS TO REESTABLISH THIS FUND AS THE SPECIAL PURPOSES REVENUE FUND (SPRF), TO PROVIDE THAT THERE MUST BE CREDITED TO SPRF ALL YEAR-END SURPLUS STATE GENERAL FUND REVENUES NOT OTHERWISE REQUIRED TO REPLENISH THE GENERAL RESERVE FUND, REVENUES DERIVED FROM ELIMINATING VARIOUS SALES TAX EXEMPTIONS AND SAVINGS ACHIEVED FROM THE IMPLEMENTATION OF STATE GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING, AND TO PROVIDE THAT SPRF REVENUES MUST BE APPROPRIATED OR USED AS REVENUE OFFSETS IN THE ANNUAL GENERAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT WITH ONE-THIRD EACH FOR ROAD MAINTENANCE AND CONSTRUCTION, A STATE INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX CREDIT, AND FOR ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR SCHOOL BASE STUDENT COSTS; AND TO AMEND SECTION 12-36-2120, RELATING TO SALES TAX EXEMPTIONS, SO AS TO DELETE EXEMPTIONS CURRENTLY ALLOWED FOR TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT SOLD TO TELEVISION AND RADIO STATIONS AND CABLE TELEVISION SYSTEMS, MOTION PICTURE FILM SOLD OR RENTED TO MOVIE THEATERS, SOUTH CAROLINA EDUCATION LOTTERY TICKETS, THE EXEMPT PORTION OF PORTABLE TOILET RENTAL PROCEEDS, AND AMUSEMENT PARK RIDES INSTALLED IN QUALIFIED AMUSEMENT AND THEME PARKS.

You can read the whole bill here.

My immediate reaction is that this is yet another instance of going the long way around to accomplish something, instead of just going ahead an raising our absurdly low gasoline tax, which after all, is intended for this very purpose.

But at least Mr. Sellers will tell you what his plan is. Which is more than some will do…

Post and Courier on infrastructure funding

The Charleston paper had a commonsense editorial Sunday on road funding. The thrust, basically, is that pols need to stop tiptoeing around what needs to be done, and what needs to be done is to raise the gas tax. Excerpts:

Gov. Nikki Haley has a plan for highway funding that is long on promise and short on details. So far, the only known fact about the plan itself is that it won’t include a tax hike.

And the road funding plan won’t be announced until January, after the November election. Why not provide all the details now and have the highway issue become a meaningful part of the debate between Gov. Haley and her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen?…

So many legislators have signed the “no-tax pledge” that road advocates have been pitching a badly needed gas tax hike as a user fee increase. So far the hardheads in the Legislature haven’t been willing to recognize the dire need for road and bridge improvements….

But calls for SIB reform, or further improvements to DOT governance, shouldn’t obscure the general need for additional road funding. Or the fact that a gas tax increase is the best way for South Carolina to provide it.

If the governor has a better plan, we shouldn’t have to wait until January to hear about it.

All of that said, let me say one thing in the incumbent governor’s defense — maybe, sorta, kinda: Maybe the reason she won’t say what her plan is before the election is that she actually wants to do the responsible thing — raise the gas tax.

Oh, but wait — she said it won’t include a tax increase. So, never mind… I was just reaching here for something to be hopeful about…

First the snakebite, now this: CVSC endorses McCulloch

This just isn’t Kirkman Finlay‘s week. First he gets bitten by a snake, now the CVSC backs his opponent:

Conservation Voters of South Carolina Endorses Joe McCulloch for Election to House 75

COLUMBIA, S.C. (July 3, 2014– The Board of Directors of Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) has announced the endorsement of Joe McCulloch for election to House District 75.10438919_551578684954322_776524793762138046_n

“We were delighted to learn of Joe McCulloch’s decision to run again for elected office. We know he will stand up to polluters and protect South Carolina from the special interests who would turn our state into a dumping ground,” said Ann Timberlake, Executive Director of CVSC.

“I am honored to accept the endorsement of CVSC. They have been an outspoken and effective leader in holding elected officials accountable for their votes on conservation issues,” McCulloch said. “I will continue to be a strong advocate for the protection of our state’s s natural resources. I am proud to stand with CVSC.”

McCulloch will challenge incumbent Kirkman Finlay in a rematch of their 2012 race which was decided by just 308 votes.

Conservation Voters of South Carolina is coming off a primary election season which saw all 13 of its endorsed candidates earn victories.

About Conservation Voters of South Carolina

Conservation Voters of South Carolina is the only nonpartisan, nonprofit statewide organization holding elected leaders directly accountable for a safe, clean and healthy South Carolina.

CVSC on Facebook and Twitter

###

It will be interesting to see how the CVSC’s won-lost record holds up through the general election. If this is part of a pattern of endorsing Democrats, that 13-0 record seems unlikely to hold up in the fall.

Tom Ervin won’t say how HE’D pay for roads, either

Well, we know that Nikki Haley wants to fix SC roads, but doesn’t want to say how she’d pay for it — at least, not until after the election.

Vincent Sheheen at least says he’d issue bonds for pay for part of our infrastructure needs. Beyond that, he’s vague. From his website:

South Carolina is too dependent on the “gas tax” and needs to diversify how it pays for roads and bridges. In addition to the $1 billion Vincent helped secure for road reconstruction in 2013, he believes we should continue using South Carolina’s bonding authority to make long-term infrastructure investments, dedicate more General Fund revenue from surpluses to roads, and look at new revenue sources to help make our roads safe again. All options must be on the table for discussion.

What I’d like to see from Sheheen an elaboration on what he means when he says SC is “too dependent on the ‘gas tax’,” and therefore must go on some grail-like quest for mysterious “new revenue sources.” I suspect what he means is that SC is simply unwilling, politically, to raise our extremely low gas tax. He certainly can’t mean that he thinks it’s too high.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Tom Ervin takes the governor to task for not saying how she’d pay for roads, and then declines to say how he would do it:

Greenville: Independent Republican candidate Tom Ervin issued the following statement:

Governor Haley’s “secret plan” to fund improvements for our roads and bridges is nothing more than a “secret tax increase” and another blatant example of her lack of transparency and accountability.20140525_0138-300x300

Call Governor Haley now at (803) 734-2100 and demand that she disclose the details of her secret funding plan.  When Nikki Haley hides the ball on funding, that’s her political speak for taxpayer’s having to foot the bill.  Haley’s secret plan shouldn’t surprise anyone.  It’s Haley’s lack of leadership that has forced a county-by-county sales tax increase to make up for her failed leadership.  This has resulted in a back door sales tax increase on top of her “secret plan” to raise taxes next year.

And I’m shocked about Governor Haley’s stated approach.  We are a legislative state.  For Haley to say she will “show the General Assembly how to do it” confirms just how irresponsible Haley’s approach is to our serious infrastructure needs.

If South Carolinians want to maintain or roads and bridges and invest in our infrastructure, it’s going to require a change in leadership.  When I am governor, I will work with our elected representatives to build a consensus for long term funding for our crumbling roads and bridges. And I’ll be honest with you up front that all suggested solutions are on the table for debate.  The legislative process is a deliberative process.  We already have a dictator in Washington, D.C.  We don’t need another one in Columbia.

Tell, me — in what way is the governor’s promise to come out with something after the election different, practically speaking, from “When I am governor, I will work with our elected representatives to build a consensus for long term funding?” Yeah, I get that he’s saying he’d respect lawmakers more than the incumbent does. But beyond that, he’s doing the same thing she is — declining to say what he would propose until after the election.

Are we supposed to read “And I’ll be honest with you up front that all suggested solutions are on the table for debate” as some sort of code that the one responsible plan, raising the gas tax, will be part of his plan? Maybe. But why not come out and say it? It’s not like he’d be endangering his chance of getting elected, because that chance does not exist. (When one is tilting at windmills, why not go for broke and propose the right thing, rather than being cagey?)

So, having surveyed the field, one thing I must say in Todd Rutherford’s behalf is that at least he’s proposing something, even though it’s a really bad idea.

Rep. Finlay bitten by a snake!

And even though he says he expects people to make jokes about it, I’m going to resist the temptation to speculate that he’s been walking too close to the Tea Party.

Because to me, there’s nothing funny about snakes:

 Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, has been bitten by a snake but is doing fine and is recovering.

“My ankle is swollen up the size of a pumpkin, or more like an eggplant,” said Finlay, who was bitten Sunday evening around dusk while he was out walking with his wife, Kathleen, near their house in the Hampton Hill neighborhood.

Finlay did what people are supposed to do when they are bitten by a snake — he went promptly to a hospital emergency room, where he was hooked up to heart monitor and other measures were quickly taken to be ready to counter any adverse reaction….

The snake attack happened very suddenly, he said.

“All I saw was a flash out of the bottom of my eye, and I felt like I’d been stung by about 10 wasps.”…

It was either a copperhead, or some kind of rat snake — we call them chicken snakes,” he said. “It was a small snake and only got one fang in.”…

I wouldn’t think a rat snake would cause a reaction like that. I mean, the difference between that and a copperhead is kind of like night and day — isn’t it?

Anyway, I hope he recovers quickly…

Another centrist video message from an SC Democrat

There’s nothing terribly surprising about South Carolina Democrats gravitating toward the center — they’ve done it as long as I’ve been following politics in my home state.

But I’m definitely seeing a pronounced trend toward setting out those positions very definitely, so you make no mistake.

You saw the recent Tombo Hite video, stressing limited government and keeping taxes low (not lowering taxes, but keeping them low — a truthful distinction you won’t often hear from Republicans, who tend to pander to the erroneous belief that taxes are high in SC).

Now here’s one featuring Vida Miller from the Georgetown area, stressing “Community. Integrity. Responsibility.” Communitarian values that sound sort of conservative because they ARE conservative in the traditional sense of the word — as distinguished from all the anti-institutional bomb-throwers who call themselves “conservative” these days.

vida miller

CVSC says lack of transparency hurts conservation cause

Remember Cindi Scoppe’s column about how inexcusable it was for the final version of the budget to be set by two men, rather than the traditional conference committee?

And remember Shane Massey’s “coup” speech in which he cited that as one of the reasons he opposed Hugh Leatherman as Senate president pro tempore?

Well, now Ann Timberlake of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina is offering a specific example of how such lack of transparency can hurt, at least from her organization’s perspective — although she does give Leatherman credit for leaving the door open to revisiting the matter:

We win some and we lose some at the State House but we are most likely to lose when decisions are made behind closed doors.

In March, we celebrated when the House approved the full amount that estimates projected for the Conservation Bank from the normal Deed Stamp formula (around $10.5 million).  The vote was transparent and decisive at 111-5 and 41-3 in the Senate.

But things changed when Representatives and Senators delegated their responsibilities for finalizing the budget to two individuals: the House Ways & Means Chair (Rep. Brian White) and the Senate Finance Chair (Sen. Hugh Leatherman).  This is the first time in recent memory that a transparent Conference Committee was circumvented.  It likely happened because there were few differences between the House and Senate budgets and there were more revenues projected by the Board of Economic Advisors.

What could not have happened in the open, however, happened behind closed doors.  In the final budget that legislators approved on a quick and simple “up or down” vote, the Bank’s revenues were capped at last year’s authorization level of $9.8 million – roughly $2 million less than the BEA’s revised estimate of $12 million for the Bank.

Do you realize what the Bank can do with $2 million dollars?  Last November, for example, just under $1 million was approved for the Angel Oak Preserve in Charleston County.  In April, 2013, $1.5 million purchased 1,548 acres of the iconic “Nine Times” tract south of Scenic 11 in Pickens County.  This April, $1.15 million went to acquire the Rocky Point Landing in Georgetown County and just over $2 million put conservation easements on approximately 8 miles of Santee River frontage.  The list goes on and more information is at http://sccbank.sc.gov/

The good news is that Senator Leatherman prevailed in keeping the disputed $2 million frozen in the Bank’s account, so there is a possibility that the General Assembly’s “Other Funds Committee” could “un-freeze” these funds for the Bank’s use later in the year.

Only a handful of legislators knew that they were voting for less dollars for the Conservation Bank when they voted for the budget.  You should let your Representative and Senator know that you expect them to retain control of the budget process in years to come.  We cannot let what happened to the Conservation Bank go unnoticed and your voice makes a difference.  Thank you.

Executive Director
Conservation Voters of South Carolina www.cvsc.org

McGill becomes lieutenant governor, Massey cries “coup!”, Leatherman becomes president pro tem

That was a busy, fairly intense hour or so I just spent over at the State House. Since I’ve already written it all out in Tweets, here’s my feed, with a few reTweets and replies thrown in for seasoning.

I’ll set the scene by saying no one emerged to oppose Sen. Yancey McGill for the office of Senate president pro tempore, despite the hand-wringing of some Republicans over the idea of a Democrat holding a practically powerless statewide office for a mere seven months) the horror!). Then:

So, you see, lots o’ drama, but not much suspense. You could have heard a pin drop while Massey was talking, but it was all over.

I like that Sen. Massey joined the thread. One of the cool things about Twitter is you get that kind of back-and-forth. Not just a monologue.

By the way, when I wrote that “the battle for pro tem is joined on the Senate floor,” I didn’t realize there wasn’t going to be a battle, other than Massey’s speech. I didn’t realize Martin had dropped out.

Also, that SRO crowd — I think it was all one group, having to do with the Farm Bureau or some such. They were later recognized from the floor. They just happened to enter as things got interesting.

And I wasn’t looking at Tom Davis when he voted no — even though he was seated right below me — but someone in the gallery near me noted that he had seemed really conflicted, and apparently disgusted, at the time of his vote. I’ll see if I can get ahold of him to elaborate.

And so you see the limitations of social media. It’s immediate, but stuff you find out moments later (and would have known before writing your story for old media) gets left out…