Category Archives: Money

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…

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…

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.

Sheheen campaign EXTREMELY EXCITED about new poll

And they can’t wait for you to celebrate with them by sending money.

I received this a few minutes ago:

BREAKING NEWS! New Poll shows race in dead heat! We’ve got to keep up the momentum and strike while the iron is hot! Help us reach our biggest fundraising goal yet! Click here to contribute >>

Brad,

Have you heard the great news? A new poll shows the race between Vincent and Nikki Haley a statistical tie! We’re only a few days away from a major fundraising reporting deadline and I need you to go all in to make sure we capitalize on this momentum.

With the great response to Vincent’s first ad and now this poll, a dedicated group of donors have pledged to match every contribution, dollar-for-dollar, between now and the deadline.

We need your buy-in immediately because:

• the polls have Vincent statistically tied with Nikki Haley
• Haley’s extremist allies will stop at NOTHING to make sure she wins in November, including airing dirty and untrue ads
• the Koch Brothers have pledged to spend nearly $300 million dollars this election cycle to promote their extreme agenda, so we’ve got to be ready for anything


So will you contribute right now? We need to have the resources to fight back against any attack that comes our way, and we can only do that if you are behind us. Click here to rush your donation now >>

There’s no time to waste, and with your contribution counting for twice as much, we need you to get in the ring with us.

Please use this link so your donation is automatically matched: www.vincentsheheen.com/june30

Thanks,

Andrew

Campaign Manager
Sheheen for South Carolinae 

That doesn’t fully communicate the level of their excitement, because the yellow highlighting on the first few lines didn’t stick when I copied and pasted that. But they’re pretty worked up.

Here’s a link to The State‘s story about the poll. The headline says “Poll shows SC Gov. Nikki Haley with narrow lead over challenger.” But the Sheheen people are right. They’re 3 percentage points apart with a 3.7 percent margin of error, so technically, it’s a statistical dead heat…

Sheheen’s first TV ad of 2014: The Sheriff

First, I have to say something to head off the confusion: That’s not me in this Sheheen campaign ad. That’s my twin, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Just so we have that straight.

Anyway, I’m sure that I’m breaking this story, because the campaign sent this to me only minutes ago with the message…

Brad,

I wanted to send you a quick note to give you an exciting update! You’ve been one of our biggest supporters so far, and this campaign wouldn’t have achieved such success without you on the team. Because you’ve been such a great supporter, I wanted to make sure you’re the first to see our first television ad.

But here’s the reality – TV ads aren’t cheap and we need to raise $15,000 by midnight tonight to keep this ad on the air. Can you help us out? Click here to send an urgent donation before midnight >>

Click here to watch our first ad…

Your unwavering support of Vincent has helped us get to where we are today.

But now we’re down to the wire. We have to close our budget gap and keep this ad on the air. Nikki Haley and her extremist friends have already flooded our airwaves with misleading ads. It’s time for us to fight back….

… and so forth.

So, I’m special. But the Sheheen campaign must be in big trouble, because it sees me as one of it’s “biggest supporters,” and I’ve never given them a penny…

Pelosi: You never write, you never call, you don’t send money…

Got this followup, from Nancy Pelosi (really, from the DCCC), to the Biden fund-raising email earlier:

President Obama has emailed you.

Vice President Biden has emailed you.

And now I’ve emailed you.

We wouldn’t all be asking if it wasn’t so important.

Brad, if we’re going to withstand the barrage of attacks we’re facing from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, we need you to step up now. We’re down to our last 24 hours before our fundraising deadline and still coming up 18,000 donations short. Can we count on you?…

I guess the mention of those Democratic Party boogeymen, the Kochs and Rove, is supposed to send shivers down the spine of the recipient, and trigger the involuntary writing of checks.

Fortunately, we independents are more complex organisms…

SC Democrats, you won’t get my digits THAT easily…

After having gotten way harsh on the SC Democrats’ case (or at least, the SC House Democrats’ case) the other day, I was about to respond in a positive way to this come-on:

Brad-

In the coming elections, we have a chance to make a big change to the future of South Carolina. We must change course, because failed leadership and no accountability isn’t working for the people of South Carolina.

Change is never easy, but with all of you on board to help, I know that we can make a difference at the ballot box.

This is all about you, so we want to hear from you. Click here to let us know which issues are important to you, and share your story.

In just the last year, South Carolina has seen major ethics scandals, botched cover-ups, and failed leaders who are more worried about making headlines than getting their jobs done.

We can’t change this without you. Let us know what your biggest priority is in the coming election and share why it is important to you. Click here and let us know today!

Thank you for being part of our campaign to bring a new era of leadership to Columbia.

Sincerely,
Amanda Loveday
Executive Director, South Carolina Democratic Party

I was all like, I gave them a hard time for their agenda, so since they’re asking me now what their agenda should be, the least I can do is tell them what I think. Who knows; it might do some good…

But then I clicked on the link, and realized they were just after my contact info. That’s what they meant by “share your story.”

I should have known.

Anyway, they already have my email address. They can reach me when they want. Apparently, they won’t be satisfied until they have my credit card numbers. Which ain’t gonna happen…

What it would cost to make public college tuition-free

My daughter, who by the way earned a free ride through college through merit scholarships, brought this to my attention today, from a recent piece in The Atlantic:

Here’s Exactly How Much the Government Would Have to Spend to Make Public College Tuition-Free

A mere $62.6 billion dollars!

According to new Department of Education data, that’s how much tuition public colleges collected from undergraduates in 2012 across the entire United States. And I’m not being facetious with the word mere, either. The New America Foundation says that the federal government spent a whole $69 billion in 2013 on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks, work study funding. And that doesn’t even include loans.

If we were we scrapping our current system and starting from scratch, Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

Of course, we’re not going to start from scratch (and I’m not even sure we should want to make state schools totally free). But I like to make this point every so often because I think it underscores what a confused mess higher education finance is in this country…

Huh…

Apparently, some newspapers still have money to waste

scene

That’s all I can think after glancing through this offering of “one-line films created by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.”

Which, the credits tell us, were produced by The New York Times Magazine.

And which star Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and others.

Wow. Apparently, some newspapers still have money to waste…

Should $125 million be spent on the Carolina Coliseum?

The Carolina Coliseum, back when you could see it from the north side.

The Carolina Coliseum, back when you could see it from the north side.

I think I entered the Carolina Coliseum for the first time in late summer, 1971. The building was only about three years old then.

The occasion was the “Jesus Christ Superstar” tour. This was long before it was either a play or a movie. The album had come out a few months before, and this was a touring group that performed the music concert-style. It featured Yvonne Elliman, from the original album, as Mary Magdalene.

Great show, even without anyone really acting out the story. You youngsters have to realize we were into listening to albums with our eyes closed and headphones on in those days. In fact, the first time I heard the album, this girl named Mary (Riley, not Magdalene) was lying on her back listening to it on the floor of a beach house that a mutual friend’s family had rented at Barber’s Point on Oahu, with the stereo’s speakers positioned either side of her head, inches from her ears. I don’t recall what I thought of the music at that point because a large part of my brain was occupied just looking at Mary.

Then, a few weeks later, I was back in the Coliseum for registration for the fall, my one and only semester at USC. This involved shuffling around from queue to queue signing up for one class at a time, holding these long computer punchcards in our hands. I think the way it worked was when you signed up for a class, you were given a punchcard for that course and section. Then when you were done, you handed in your small deck of cards, and someone fed them into a computer and presto, you had a schedule.

It was the first time I ever had anything to do with computers (I don’t think I saw a hand-held calculator for another year or two), and I was impressed. It all felt very space-age. Which is a term we used to use for “modern,” in the days when we thought the moon was but the beginning of manned exploration of space.

So, you know, this was a while ago.

It cost $8.5 million to build the Coliseum in 1968 (which would be more than $57 million today). The new Moore School going up next to it has a price tag of $106.5 million.

Now, there is a proposal to renovate the Coliseum for $125 million:

Plans call for turning the 12,000-seat arena into classrooms and labs, a one-stop shop of student services, an adjunct student union and a practice facility for the Gamecock basketball teams.

To quote that revered academic Dr. Peter Venkman, “It just seems a little pricey for a unique fixer-upper opportunity, that’s all.”

But that’s just a first, gut reaction. Perhaps a case can be made for it. What do y’all think?