Category Archives: Money

Do college football coaches deserve their pay?

Does Steve Spurrier actually earn, in any moral sense, the more than $4 million he is paid as an ostensible public employee? Or is the $7.2 million that Alabama coach Nick Saban pulls down justified?

Mr. Saban’s biographer, Monte Burke, says yes in The Wall Street Journal. A portion of his argument:

Former Alabama President Robert Witt (now the chancellor of the Alabama university system), once told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that Mr. Saban was “the best financial investment this university has ever made.” He has a point.NickSaban_LSU-AL-07t

Mr. Saban had an immediate financial impact on Alabama. In 2007 the school was closing a $50 million capital campaign for its athletic department. After Mr. Saban arrived, the campaign exceeded its goal by $52 million. Alabama’s athletic-department revenue the year before Coach Saban showed up was $68 million. By 2013-14 it had risen to $153 million, a gain of 125%. (The athletic department kicked $9 million of that to the university.) Mr. Saban’s football program accounted for $95 million of that figure, and posted a profit of $53 million.

Mr. Witt said Mr. Saban also played a big role in the success of a $500 million capital campaign for the university (not merely the athletic department) that took place around the time the football coach was hired. Mr. Witt also credited his coach with helping grow Alabama’s enrollment—which stands at more than 36,000, an increase of 14,000 students since 2007. The university managed the neat trick of actually becoming more selective during that time. The year before Mr. Saban arrived, Alabama accepted 77% of its applicants. It now admits a little more than 50%. Mr. Saban’s three national titles at Alabama have helped the university create a winning brand….

Of course such an argument can be mounted for anyone whose hand rests on the money tap that is college football.

But in a larger sense, it’s completely absurd to say that anyone earns that much money supervising a bunch of ostensible students in doing something that has nothing to do with their studies — playing a game. When I say “larger sense,” I mean the view from 30,000 feet — the distance I try (unsuccessfully) to maintain from anything having to do with college football.

But hey, let’s keep it on a simple dollars-and-cents level (as if anyone counts cents any more): Who earns that money that flows into the program’s coffers? The coach or the players? In the NFL, top players make more than the coaches — which makes sense, when you consider who is actually out there courting brain damage and other forms of permanent injury. But am I arguing, as many do, that college players should be paid in accord with the profits they bring in?

No, I’m not. College kids getting paid millions to play a game is more or less as absurd as the coaches getting paid that much. In fact, I have no suggestions, because the problem is far too pervasive, complex and systemic to lend itself to any workable solution.

The problem isn’t that colleges are wasteful in paying coaches this much. The problem is that football brings in this much money. In other words, the problem is that we live in a society in which people value college football to a degree that is far beyond the power of the word “absurd.” And the result is, as the headline I reTweeted a week ago says:

Who is to blame? Pretty much everybody I see when I look around me, a fact borne in upon me at this time of year with all the subtlety of that trash compactor in the Death Star, its walls moving in to impartially crush Luke, Leia and Han.

Which reminds me. You know how much Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are being paid to reprise their roles? Well, neither do I, but … Oh, never mind…

‘They panickin’ out there; I can feel it…’

600 points

So this morning, my financial adviser called to see if I was doing OK.

Well, I had thought I was doing OK, but when you get a call like that…

But seriously, he was just checking to see whether I felt like I needed to do anything in light of what was happening in global markets. (He wasn’t urging me to do anything; he was just basically doing a pulse check with clients in light of all the alarming news out there.)

No, I didn’t. Want to do anything, I mean. This, of course, isn’t about me having nerves of steel. This is about me not thinking about money stuff at all, and not wanting to think about it. And to do something, you’d have to think about it, right? Most of the time, I forget that I have investments, because it’s money I’ve never seen — it was taken out of my paychecks before I ever had it — and which I won’t see for years to come.

Nevertheless, I did think about it a little, and the way I thought of it is this: So suppose some small portion of my retirement money is “exposed” in a class of stocks that is particularly hard-hit in the current situation. Well, I am the very opposite of a financial whiz, but it seems to me that that would be the very LAST situation in which you’d want to unload those stocks. I mean, why wouldn’t you wait until everybody was celebrating how awesome that sort of stock was, and clamoring for it, and then sell? (In fact, if I had any cash, which I don’t, I might want to buy a little more of it…)

That’s what I think anyway, when I think about it. I’m going to stop thinking about it now.

You?

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Barack Obama turns 54 today. A mere pup.

This was brought to my attention by Nancy Pelosi, who wanted me to celebrate by participating in one of the DCCC’s cheesy fund-raising schemes.

I prefer to just share the above video, which says “Happy Birthday” far better than I could.

FYI, for you young folks, the person doing the singing self-identified as a woman, and everyone agreed with her.

That Policy Council debate from last month

The SC Policy Council now has the debate I participated in last month up on YouTube, in two parts, above and below.

So watch if you’re interested in whether those who spend to influence elections should have to disclose their sources of income. Which is what it was about — not, as the Policy Council would have it, “free speech.”

Lynn Teague was with me on the side of all that is right and true, Policy Council director Ashley Landess and Rep. Rick Quinn were our respected interlocutors on the other side.

Now that the video is available and I can share with you, I need to disclose a source of income myself.

When we arrived for the debate, there was at each of our places a little gift bag. I could see that the cellophane package contained a bag of Adluh grits, a tea towel with a Palmetto tree on it, and some black tissue paper. As I was leaving with mine — yes, I’m back on a paleo diet, but someone in the family could eat the grits, right? — the Policy Council’s Barton Swaim said to be careful with it, as there was “a card” inside. I said thanks, and to let me know any time they need me for something similar.

I thought he meant a thank-you card or something.

When I got it home and unwrapped the package, I unfolded the tissue paper to find what looked at first like a gift card. In fact, it said “gift card.” So I was thinking, “Oh, 10 bucks at Starbucks would be nice.”

scan0001Then I looked more closely, saw that it was a debit card with $100 on it, and immediately exclaimed, “I can’t keep this!” To which my wife replied, “And my wife said, “Why not? You don’t work for the newspaper any more.”

All those years working for newspapers, I could not have accepted any sort of stipend, and I gave up any honoraria — such as that $3,400 Presbyterian College wanted me to have for serving on a panel one evening — without a second thought. I would tell them to keep it, and if they wouldn’t, I’d turn and give it to charity.

But this time I kept it, after calculating in my head the number of hours I had spent on the debate (at least four), which actually made it seem less like a gift.

But I haven’t spent it yet. Have to activate it first. And before that, I wanted to disclose. Which I just did.

Oh, and I still disagree with the Policy Council on the same things I did before, and just as vehemently. I thought I’d say that for my readers who think money buys agreement.

Also, I did receive a thank-you card signed by everybody from the Policy Council, which was nice of them.

Come see me make a fool of myself tonight

Repeating what I said in a comment a few days ago:

By the way, y’all…

Next week at Capstone, we’ll have a debate on issues related to my Brookings piece, sponsored by the Policy Council. I’m on the panel along with our own Lynn Teague, Rick Quinn and Ashley Landess. Charles Bierbauer will moderate.

I was invited to this by Barton Swaim, thusly:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

I hope some of y’all can come…

Here’s the Eventbrite info on it.

Actually, it turns out that Charles Bierbauer will not be moderating. Bill Rogers of the SC Press Association will take his place.

I agreed to do this even though I don’t have strong opinions on campaign finance law in general. But I do not believe, as the Policy Council appears to do, that spending equals speech. I do not believe that, as Ashley Landess says, it is “burdensome” for an advocacy group to have to disclose where its money comes from if it hopes to affect elections or policy.

And with me, that’s about as far as it goes. I’ve devoted basically no time to studying individual bills addressing the subject, or court cases on related issues. Because, you know, it’s all about money, and you know how money bores me.

But fortunately, I’ll have our own Lynn Teague on my team. The other “side” will be represented by Ms. Landess and Rep. Rick Quinn.

I’m assuming that all three of them know far more about this than I do (I know Lynn does), and will do the heavy lifting when it comes to filling those two hours.

Lynn and I talked the debate over at breakfast this morning. That’s the extent of my preparation, aside from a few emails back and forth with Barton Swaim, who got me into this.

So if you’re interested, come on out, because I’m sure the other three will have interesting things to say. And if I see the opportunity to make one of my 30,000-foot-view points, I will. Of course, I’m likely to misspeak in my ignorance of the minutiae on this issue. Which you might find entertaining, but I won’t…

Gender aside, who would YOU rather see on the $20 bill?

After reading this piece by the wonderfully named Feminista Jones, arguing that putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill would actually undermine her legacy, I got to thinking: Who would I rather see on the double sawbuck in place of Andrew Jackson?

I mean, you know, demographics aside. Me not being all that big on identity politics and all.

The simple answer is “just about anybody,” including Harriet Tubman and whoever the also-rans were behind her in the Women on 20s contest.

Jackson’s not my fave president. I’ve always sort of seen his electoral victory over the vastly more qualified John Quincy Adams as a moment, if not the moment, when American politics went off the rails. I mean, good one on the Battle of New Orleans (even though the war was over), but just not one of the greats, to my way of thinking. Also, Davy Crockett was my hero when I was a pre-schooler, and Davy (who split with Jackson over the Trail of Tears), if anything, thought less of him than I do.

So whom would I pick to replace him? This is an occasion for another Top Five List:

  1. John Adams — My favorite Founding Father. I have long believed that history gave him short shrift. Everybody remembers Jefferson for writing the Declaration of Independence. But there would have been no declaration without Adams. He’s the guy who tirelessly rammed it through the Continental Congress, while Jefferson sat there like a bump on a log. In fact, it’s likely that it was Adams’ decision to have Jefferson draft the actual document, because he knew the Virginian had a way with words. But Adams was far more the author of our liberty than Jefferson. You say Washington is the Father of our Country? Well, Adams was the one who set him up to become that, by pushing him as the guy to lead our army. For that matter, Adams was the one who proposed that there be a Continental Army to begin with. Then there were his significant contributions as a diplomat in Paris and London during and after the war, which did a lot to make our victory possible. Sure, his presidency wasn’t anything to brag on, but you don’t even have to have been a president to be on a bill. Ask Franklin and Hamilton.
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt — Led us through the greatest crises in our history, outside of the Civil War — and Lincoln’s already on the five. And he did it with such elan. Who else in our history could have bucked us up and kept us going through the ’30s and early ’40s? No one. And yeah, he’s already on the dime, but he still comes in second — or even first, making Adams second — on my list.
  3. Martin Luther King — After you mention Lincoln and Roosevelt, whose spoken words stirred the American spirit with more power? He inspired us to be the kind of country we always meant to be. We’re still working on that, and he still inspires us.
  4. Harriet Tubman — For all the reasons she won the recent competition to come up with a woman to put on the list. And not just because she’s a twofer — y’all know I don’t go in for such things. Did I ever tell you that when my wife spent a year up in Pennsylvania with our youngest daughter, while the daughter was training at a ballet school, they lived in an antebellum house that had been part of the Underground Railroad? True story. So I must confess to that personal connection.
  5. John Glenn — I’ve always found the first American to orbit the Earth one of the more admirable people of my lifetime. Also, I wanted to have at least one surprise nominee in my five, and Bryan got me to thinking again today about how much I love “The Right Stuff.” And while he’s a nonpresidential nominee, he was my favorite candidate in 1984, even though he didn’t make it. Godspeed, John Glenn.

Whom would you choose?

 

A big weekend for SC Policy Council in the WSJ

I just received an email that reminded me of something…

This past weekend, there were not one, but two opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal written by folks affiliated with the S.C. Policy Council.

The first wasn’t at all surprising, as it was written by Communications Director Barton Swaim, who is a regular contributor to the Journal, as well as to the Weekly Standard and other such publications. Barton is an erudite young man and a fine writer. His piece over the weekend put forth a modest proposal for a partial acceptance of the excessive use of the random “like” in common speech. All who love the language should read it, assuming they can get past the pay wall: “Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language.”

The second piece was by Policy Council President Ashley Landess, and it had this attention-grabbing headline: “The South Carolina Way of Incumbency Protection.”

You’d pretty much have to think exactly like Ashley to figure out what the piece was about based on that hed. For most people, that would be a leap. Basically, she argued against legislation making its way through our Legislature that would require groups that spend money to affect elections to disclose their donors, claiming ominously that this was some sort of plot by incumbents to silence political criticism.

Which, as I say, is something of a stretch. But a stretch you are motivated to attempt if you are the head of the Policy Council. And a message that would appeal to the editors of the Journal.

Anyway, I was reminded of both these pieces by an email from Barton this morning saying:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Think about it?

Barton

  1. Thanks for tweeting my eccentric little op-ed. I appreciated you calling me “our own.”

So I had to stop and actually read Ashley’s piece, and decide what I think of it…

Well, “vehemently” is a bit strong. But no, I don’t agree with her.

First, campaign finance has never been a thing I’m that passionate about (it’s about, shudder, money, which bores me, which is probably why I don’t have any). But when forced to think about it, I have tended to say “no” to spending limits, “yes” to disclosure.

The Constitution protects our right to stand up and speak out, not our right to secretly pay other people to speak for us. And a group that pushes transparency as the Policy Council does sets a bad example by wanting to be secretive. Ashley’s piece sort of rings hollow as I read it.

I’m slightly ambivalent about this. For instance, up to a point, I allow people to comment anonymously on my blog. But I restrict what they say more than I do people who are open about their identities. I don’t let them, for instance, criticize others anonymously.

So, given all that, I suppose I could be on a panel. But I’m not nearly as passionate or committed on this as Ashley.

I’ve asked for a few more details…

Should college athletes get paid (more than the generous compensation they already receive, that is)?

If the ancient Greeks had allowed their athletes to be paid, maybe they could have afforded some clothes.

If the ancient Greeks had allowed their athletes to be paid, maybe they could have afforded some clothes.

One or two of y’all really appreciated Bryan raising sports topics in my absence, so here goes: Should college athletes get paid?

Here’s the summary section of the bill that would provide for that:

A BILL TO AMEND CHAPTER 101, TITLE 59 OF THE 1976 CODE, RELATING TO COLLEGES AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING GENERALLY, BY ADDING ARTICLE 5, TO PROVIDE THAT PARTICIPATING INSTITUTIONS IN THIS STATE SHALL ANNUALLY AWARD STIPENDS TO STUDENT ATHLETES WHO PARTICIPATE IN AN INTERCOLLEGIATE SPORT AND MAINTAIN A GOOD ACADEMIC STANDING DURING THE PREVIOUS YEAR, TO PROVIDE CONDITIONS FOR RECEIPT OF STIPENDS, AND TO DEFINE NECESSARY TERMS; TO AMEND CHAPTER 101, TITLE 59 OF THE 1976 CODE, RELATING TO COLLEGES AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING GENERALLY, BY ADDING ARTICLE 6, TO PROVIDE THAT PARTICIPATING INSTITUTIONS IN THIS STATE SHALL CREATE A STUDENT ATHLETE TRUST FUND AND FUND THE TRUST WITH A PERCENTAGE OF THE INTERCOLLEGIATE SPORT GROSS REVENUE GENERATED FROM CERTAIN SOURCES, TO PROVIDE THAT FOR EACH YEAR A STUDENT ATHLETE MAINTAINS GOOD ACADEMIC STANDING, FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS WILL BE DEPOSITED INTO THE FUND ON HIS BEHALF AND THE TOTAL TRUST FUND AMOUNT MAY NOT EXCEED TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER STUDENT ATHLETE; TO PROVIDE THAT AFTER FULFILLMENT OF ALL ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS FOR GRADUATION AND COMPLETION OF A STATE-APPROVED FINANCIAL LITERACY COURSE, THE PARTICIPATING INSTITUTION SHALL PROVIDE A ONE-TIME PAYMENT TO EACH STUDENT ATHLETE IN THE FULL AMOUNT DEPOSITED IN THE FUND ON THEIR BEHALF, TO PROVIDE CONDITIONS FOR RECEIPT OF THE TRUST FUND PAYMENT, AND TO DEFINE NECESSARY TERMS.

I say no. And when you say that college athletes are providing services worth millions to their schools, and that (even though those on scholarship are provided with a free college education if they are willing and able to take advantage of it) they can easily be exploited, chewed up and spit out by such a system…

Then I say we need to change the system, not the status of the athletes. Step it back from being a big business. Move it back toward something more akin to intramural sports among actual students.

Of course, I know I’m speaking wishfully. This situation arises from a sort of mass psychosis in the general population, a society that for reasons that continue to baffle me places an absurdly high value on the outcomes of games. Actually, not only the outcomes, but on every bit of minutia in any way connected to these games.

And that’s the problem. I admit I don’t know how to change that. But I don’t think paying players is a solution to the problem. Seems to me it would take us even deeper in…

Do we want to put a woman on the $20 bill?

                            If we remove Andy Jackson, who would take his place?

Apparently, there’s a movement afoot to put a woman on an official U.S. bank note.

Now, I’m always amused when I see ol’ Hickory on the $20 bill, because he was so widely known for his dislike of banking in general, and his specific dislike for paper money. So maybe the Treasury Department is having the last laugh, and maybe he wouldn’t mind so much if we removed his portrait from the $20 bill.

I don’t have any particular objection replacing Jackson. But who would we put there? You should have a deserving candidate, not just put someone there because you can.

“On Sunday, Women on 20s began inviting people to visit the site and vote for their favorite candidates to replace Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill; the choices include Alice Paul, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan, Margaret Sanger, Patsy Mink, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Frances Perkins, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The women were selected from a longer list of a hundred names based on their societal impact and the difficulties they faced in pursuing their goals.”

There are plenty of deserving people. Why arbitrarily limit it to women? Certainly, Martin Luther King, Jr. would be an obvious candidate if you didn’t limit the field to women. Who else would you like to see on a $20?

Tony Keck: The pro from Dover who turned out just to be another hired gun

Just want to make sure you don’t miss Cindi Scoppe’s column today. The headline in the paper was “The anti-Medicaid argument unmasked.” It’s a bit more descriptive online: “What does it mean that SC Gov Nikki Haley’s chief anti-Medicaid lobbyist has changed his tune to match his new job?” (Which, of course, would not have fit in the paper.)

An excerpt:

THE POST and Courier had an article the other day about the conversion of Tony Keck, who served as Gov. Nikki Haley’s chief Medicaid-expansion opponent before he left last year to take a job with a Tennessee hospital system that, like pretty much any hospital system in the country, supports the Medicaid expansion that he worked so hard to block on this side of the border.

Under the headline “Former Haley health care adviser says Medicaid expansion might work elsewhere,” the article noted that Mr. Keck’s new employer supported the recent attempt to expand the program in Tennessee, and it quoted Mr. Keck as saying that expanding Medicaid to cover more people under Obamacare “might be the best choice for some states, and it might not be in other states.”

And you could just feel Medicaid supporters in our state rising up in smug unison to cry out “Hypocrite!” Sort of like they did when he first landed his new gig, only louder…

You have to understand that Keck was important to selling the completely bankrupt notion that South Carolina shouldn’t expand Medicaid, and get a huge windfall from the feds to provide medical care to South Carolinians — not to mention providing a lot of good jobs at hospitals.

Keck was portrayed as this whiz kid who could back up the Tea Party article of blind faith (and blind hostility to anything branded “Obama”) with what sounded to a lot of people like compelling fact.

But now that his bread is buttered on the other side, he has discovered that Medicaid expansion is a good thing for “some states.” Such as the one where he’s working now.

Yep, it’s a good thing for “some states,” all right. Such as South Carolina, and the other 49. And it always was.

“Some states” and not others? Really? What a bunch of hooey. Another excerpt:

… Mr. Keck was the respectable face of Gov. Nikki Haley’s purely partisan, and tea-partian, opposition to a program that, by any honest analysis, would be good for our state. Maybe not for our nation — and maybe that’s how we ought to look at it — but clearly good for our state, which is how our legislators normally look at such things.

Mr. Keck was the outside expert, the wunderkind our governor wooed away from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, who understood public health and public-health finances. The person who could make a respectable argument that didn’t sound like warmed-over talking points from the National Republican Committee or FOX News. Certainly that’s why I always liked and respected him, even though I disagreed with him.

But it turns out that for all of his expertise, he was, first and foremost, a hired hand. The guy hawking Big Macs not because he liked them best but because he worked for McDonalds. The guy waving the pom-poms for Medicaid rejection not because that was what was best for our state — or at least not primarily because of that — but because that’s what the boss was selling….

But that’s not the bad part. You know what the bad part is? That now that there is no pretense about the fact that the anti-Medicaid emperor never had on a stitch of clothing, we are still stuck with no Medicaid expansion.

Why? Because Nikki Haley, and too many of her allies, don’t care what the facts are. They don’t want South Carolinians receiving this benefit, and that’s that.

Legislative hearing on the school equity decision

I got this advisory yesterday from Bud Ferillo, who made the influential “Corridor of Shame” documentary, in case you don’t know him otherwise:

Advisory Notice
See attached official notice for the initial meeting of the new legislative committee that will consider remedies for the Abbeville v. State of South Carolina rural schools funding case.
It will be held in Room 100, ground floor of the Blatt House Office Building, at 1:00pm next Monday, February, 23, 2015.
Former U. S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina’s first two-term Governor, Richard W. Riley, a partner in the Nelson Mullins law firm which represented the plaintiff districts prop bono publico, will be the lead off speaker. See the attached Agenda for other speakers and committee business.
PLease share with others. Come early for a seat. Enter through the center door facing the Gressette Senate Office Building. All other entrances are locked.

 

The Bingham-Mitchell plan for S.C. State

This came over the transom during the last hour:

BINGHAM-MITCHELL OFFER PLAN TO SAVE S.C. STATE

Bingham,Kenny4

Bingham

Two S.C. House Members, a Republican and a Democrat, have offered legislation to keep S.C. State University open and to return the institution to financial solvency.

S.C. Representatives Kenny Bingham (Rep-Lexington) and Harold Mitchell (Dem.-Spartanburg) are filing a bipartisan bill to rescue S.C. State from its current crisis.  Bingham and Mitchell said they believe their plan is the best way to keep the institution’s doors open, protect students and replace the leadership that has brought the school to the verge of ruin.

Bingham and Mitchell’s proposed legislation follows an unprecedented letter The S.C. Executive Budget Office sent to S.C. State University President Thomas Elzey last Friday, February 13, informing him that the University has not provided the State with a budget plan and is ending the fiscal year in a deficit which the University cannot eliminate on its own.

Harold Mitchell

Mitchell

“Declining enrollment and financial mismanagement have created a deficit of at least $18.6 million,” Bingham said.  “A clear indication that students and parents know how bad things are is the shocking 40% decline in enrollment.”

State Government was recently forced to loan S.C. State $7.5 million to pay bills and make payroll. Mismanagement has placed the institution’s national accreditation at risk.  Last June the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC) put them on probation for non-compliance with standards on finances and governance.

“We are witnessing a free fall at S.C. State, and something must be done,” Mitchell said. “Losing national accreditation would devalue diplomas, undercut the investment students have made in their future, and devastate one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges in the nation.”

The Bingham-Mitchell Joint Resolution would:

  • Remove all current S.C. State Board members
  • Put S.C. State under the control of the State Budget and Control Board (SBCB)
  • Direct the SBCB to remove the current president and appoint an interim CEO
  • Direct the SBCB to make recommendations to the Legislature on how to get S.C. State through its financial crisis and secure the institution’s accreditation.

S.C. State has been in a crisis for more than three years, beginning when federal indictments for a kickback scheme forced two board members to step down.  Later, news of serious financial mismanagement surfaced, causing several administrators to be replaced and board members to resign out of frustration.

This year S.C. State notified the General Assembly that they could not make their first loan repayment. “The legislature literally had to step in to keep the lights and electricity from being cut off,” Bingham said.  “Administrators have refused to give the General Assembly basic financial information, and they clearly do not have a plan to regain solvency or to keep their school’s accreditation.”

“This was a difficult decision for us,” Rep. Mitchell said.  “But for years the Legislature has tried to bring new leaders to the board, only to see them resign in frustration as the financial crisis deepened.”

Bingham and Mitchell said in a joint statement: “We believe this type of aggressive action with immediate accountability is needed to prevent turning a very bad situation into a total disaster for the students, their parents and this historically important institution.”

# # #

So what are we to do with S.C. State?

A couple of weeks ago, I raised the question here of whether South Carolina should continue to prop up S.C. State University, given the institution’s repeated failures to be accountable for the money that keeps getting sent its way.

Now, a legislative committee has gone farther in that direction that I expected, proposing to shut the school down completely for two years, fire all the faculty and staff, and start over in 2017.

Which is really one of the bolder moves on any issue I’ve seen SC lawmakers seriously consider in quite some time.

According to The State:

Under a budget proposal approved Tuesday by a panel of the SC House, the state would:

•  Close S.C. State for the 2015-16 school year; there would be no classes or sports also in 2016-17

•  Fire trustees, administrators, faculty and staff. Halt athletics programs

•  Allow current students to get state scholarships to attend other S.C. public college or historically black universities

•  Assume the school’s debt, more than $100 million

•  Working with a panel of current and former college presidents that is advising S.C. State, develop a plan by Jan. 1, 2017, to re-open the school in the fall of 2017…

This seems unlikely to make it through the General Assembly, but it’s already changed the conversation. The next day, the Black Caucus called for S.C. State president Thomas Elzey to be sacked.

Thoughts?

Let’s ask the question: Does SC need SC State?

Or to ask it another way, does the state of South Carolina need to keep propping up an institution that has become a money sinkhole, and is not delivering on its mission, with a 13.7 percent four-year graduation rate?

This is a question, of course, that has hovered out there since USC and other formerly white institutions were integrated: Given that other state institutions are open to all, do we need a separate college that formerly existed just for folks who couldn’t get in elsewhere?

And when we ask that, we hear various arguments for why an institution like SC State — or such private colleges as Benedict — have a greater affinity for, and understand better how to educate, a portion of the population that still lacks the advantages and support systems that middle-class whites take for granted. That such historically black institutions are better at meeting such students where they are, and lifting them to where they want to be.

And perhaps that is the case.

But at some point, we need to look at whether that job of lifting up the disadvantaged is getting done, and how much we are spending on dubious returns.

Note:

Struggling S.C. State University wants an added $13.7 million from House budget writers to pay off a $6 million state loan and improve operations at the college, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the state.

The Orangeburg college must get out “from under this cloud” to improve its graduation rate, S.C. State president Thomas Elzey said after he made the school’s budget presentation Wednesday to S.C. House members.

“The negative kind of statements about the quality of this university and the value of this university (need) to be taken off the table because we are valuable, and we do offer quality,” Elzey said.

However, legislators focused on S.C. State’s financial and academic woes.

S.C. State’s enrollment has fallen 20 percent recently but the school failed to cut its budget to match lost tuition payments. As a result, the state’s only historically black public university owes vendors $10 million in unpaid bills. To reduce costs, cuts have been made to staff and are being considered for athletics, the school’s president said.

The school wants its state taxpayer money doubled – to nearly $27 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, including money to pay off the state loan – from $13 million this year.

That request does not include any money to pay back a $12 million state loan – to be issued over three years – that the Joint Bond Review Committee approved in December….

I added the bold-faced emphasis in those two places.

An institution that in recent months and years has only been in the news for financial and leadership failures wants its appropriation doubled to get out “from under this cloud?” And then what? What are the realistic prospects going forward? What do we really expect in terms of improvement and reduced need for state infusions of money?

When the bond review committee gave the school that $12 million “loan” in December, Gov. Haley said they “gave it away because they know it can’t be paid back.” And I’m not seeing any indications that she was wrong to say that.

So… where are we going with this? Where can we realistically expect to be in five years if the state keeps funneling in the money?

And at what point is it not worth it anymore?

Even hometown Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says “we’re going to have to exercise some tough love” with SC State. But how much more love of any kind is it worth investing?

These are very tough questions that everyone involved is hesitant to articulate. Maybe these questions don’t occur to anyone, but that would surprise me.

There may be a million — or 27 million (wait; 39 million counting money to pay back the loan) — reasons why I’m wrong (and heartless and insensitive) to raise such questions. I hope there are. I want to hear them.

But I thought I’d play the part of the little kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if only to see if y’all can come up with those great answers for me. I want to be embarrassed for having asked such silly questions.

But I ask them because it seems that we’re just stumbling along from crisis to crisis here. And I think it’s useful to step back, and ask where we’re going, and whether we want to go there, and whether what we’re doing is getting us there…

I found a $100 bill, and didn’t know what to do with it…

Walking out of St. Peter’s after Mass yesterday, I bent to pick up a cough drop wrapper from the sidewalk. A fellow parishioner walking up behind me joked, “If that’s a hundred-dollar bill, it’s mine.”

“Funny you should say that,” I told him…

My wife and I spend most of the weekend raking and bagging pine straw. My estimate is that we filled, and put by the curb, 50 39-gallon lawn and leaf bags (our trash people won’t take it unless it’s bagged). I say “estimated” because on Saturday night, someone in the neighborhood took about half of what we had bagged that day. They’re welcome to it, but it threw off my count, but it was somewhere close to 50 bags.

After we ran out of the bags we had on hand late Saturday, I went to Walmart to get some more, along with a couple of other items I needed. But when I got to the checkout, I had forgotten my wallet.

100_bill_back-565x246So, I ran home, apologized profusely because I knew the sun would be down before I completed another round trip, and rushed back to Walmart. And when I got out of my car and started to rush in, there, on the pavement between my car and the SUV next to it, was the sight at right.

“That’s not…” but I bent and picked it up, and it was — a crisp, new, $100 bill, folded in half and dropped on the grubby tarmac. (My initial doubt arose partly from that cheesy, block “100” that makes the new bills look cheap and phony.)

I’ve never found that much money. Have you?

I didn’t know what to do. The chances of finding the person it belonged to inside Walmart during Christmas shopping season seemed dim. What would I do — get customer service to get on the P.A. and say, “Did anyone lose a hundred-dollar bill?” That didn’t seem practical. I started to walk in and figure it out on the way, and was about to stick it in my pocket while I walked, but suddenly got a shock of “Candid Camera” paranoia. What if this was a prank, and I was being watched? Sticking it in my pocket would look like I had decided to keep it. So I held it up in front of me so anyone could see I had not appropriated it for my own, and looked about ostentatiously.

I decided — not because it was certain, but I felt that I had to decide something (remember, I was in a hurry) — that it must have come from the SUV. A passenger had gotten out, and in sticking a handful of things into his or her pocket, dropped it. I figured I would concentrate on trying to return the bill to whoever had been in the SUV, because if the money belonged to anyone else, my chances of finding that person were close to nil.

So I walked around the SUV. It was dark green, with a couple of Dallas Cowboy stickers on the back window. Not helpful. With my phone, I took a picture of the license plate. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that, but it seemed it could be handy in a last-ditch effort to find the people it belonged to.

Then I thought, “Maybe it’s unlocked!” So I tried the passenger-side front door, the one closest to where I’d found the bill — and it opened!

And immediately, the antitheft alarm started blowing the horn, over and over (did you know that would happen with an unlocked door? never having had a car with an antitheft system, I did not). Got to get this over with! I dropped the bill onto the seat, and closed the door. Then I walked slowly and casually into the store. The whole way, with that obnoxious horn blowing behind me, I expected to be accosted by someone who thought I was trying to take something from the vehicle — and kept imagining how that conversation would go: No, actually, I was trying to put a $100 bill into that vehicle that didn’t belong to me…

But I made it, eventually found my way to the register where I’d left my stuff, paid for it and headed out.

Immediately when I got outside, I noted that the alarm had stopped blowing. As I approached the two vehicles, I could make out that there was someone in the driver’s seat of the SUV, just sitting there looking down at his phone. A young man, black, about 30-40 years old. I tapped on the window, he opened the door, and I asked, “Was your alarm going off when you came out?” He said it was, and he was calling someone about it. I told him what had happened.

“Did you find the bill on the seat?” He said yes, he had. Good, then, I said, and started to leave. And with real feeling, he said, “You have a blessed day!” You too, I said.

Note that I didn’t ask him whether the money was his. I left it up to him to tell me if it wasn’t. I was just happy to have concluded the business in a way that was good for somebody. I went home, and managed to fill of three or four of the new bags before it got too dark out.

It was only on the way home that I wondered, Where was the person who had been in the passenger seat? And if there hadn’t been anyone in the passenger seat, how did the bill fall on that side of the vehicle? I decided he had dropped it on his side, and wind had blown it under the SUV to the other side. Except, I reminded myself, there had been no wind that day while I was working outside.

Whatever. As I type this, I recall that there was a bunch of stuff sitting on that passenger seat — a jacket or sweater and several other items — and I had just dropped the bill among the clutter. So… that would indicate that maybe no one had been sitting there. Which means… oh, I don’t know.

I think it was his money. But honestly, I was just glad to get rid of it.

A brief postscript: On Sunday, as we were about to resume bagging up the pine straw, I walked up to a pile of it right by the curb, and… there was a $20 bill there. I said, this one I’m keeping, and stuck it in my pocket, thereby increasing the amount of money I had on me by 2,000 percent. It was on my property, after all. And we laughed. But we knew it probably belonged to our daughter, because she sometimes parks in that very spot.

I meant to ask her about it when she got home from work last night. I forgot…

Go ahead and feel defeated, ‘Nancy.’ Don’t fight it…

Unfortunately, the end of the election has not ended the flow of begging emails from the DCCC.

I had to smile at one today, ostensibly from Nancy Pelosi. An excerpt:

Election Day was tough. We lost the energy of some excellent public servants. In the coming days, I’m sure all the pundits will provide their analysis of what happened.

It would be easy for us to feel defeated. To think “this is too hard, I’m done fighting.” But we can’t do that. We’ve got to stay engaged…

See, there’s a reason it would be easy to feel that way — you were defeated. So don’t fight it. Sit back and absorb that for awhile, and give the clamoring for money a brief rest. Please…

This turnip isn’t giving YOU any blood, anyway

I knew the Democrats were in trouble this year, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw this email appeal today from Nancy Pelosi:

Dear Brad,

What’s the main difference between Republicans and us?

Them: They rely on the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and outside interests to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy elections for them.

Us: We rely on grassroots support from Brad…

Wow, y’all really are hard-up.Turnip_2622027

I mean, first, you can’t get blood from a turnip. And second, even if this turnip had blood to give, he wouldn’t be giving any to you or any other political party.

So you might want to review your strategy. Better do what the Republicans — and you — have long done. Turn to George Soros, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and the rest of your “outside interests.” (And while you’re at it, take a good look in the mirror at the beam in your eye.)

Oh, but speaking of blood — I have an appointment this afternoon to give again at the Red Cross over on Bull Street.

This time, I’m doing something new. I was all set to do my usual double red-cell donation, but then on Friday, they called to say that right now, they need platelets even more. So I’m going to do that.

I don’t even know what that entails. I’ll tell you later…

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…

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.

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…