Category Archives: Spending

Arts advocates gear up to fight veto yet again

Back in the dark ages when The State and other papers were produced on a mainframe computer, the Atex system I used both here and in Wichita had something called “SAVE/GET” buttons. They enabled you to store simple, repetitive bits of copy — say, your byline — and insert them into a story with just one keystroke.

So whenever someone felt like he was having to write the same story over and over (a common feeling in the news biz), he’d say, “I need to put this on a SAVE/GET key.”

Well, I’m guessing that by now, the folks over at the Arts Alliance feel that way about their annual appeals to override Gov. Haley’s vetoes:

Miss Mona at the Statehouse

“ART WORKS in South Carolina”



The vote takes place Monday, July 6.

Take a few minutes now to contact your legislators 

and ask them to override veto # 21.


The Governor has issued a veto eliminating 

$1 MILLION for Arts Education.

The House and Senate included $1 million in the S.C. Department of Education’s budget for a partnership with the S.C. Arts Commission. These funds are intended to provide more arts education for more children in more ways, including in-school, after-school and summer programs. These new efforts grew out of a long-term collaboration between the Dept. of Education and the Arts Commission.

TAKE ACTION NOW! The Legislature returns July 6 to take up vetoes. Email or call your House and Senate members and ask that they vote to override Veto # 21 to ensure that S.C. children, especially those in underserved, high poverty areas, have access to additional arts education opportunities.

Feel free to use the SCAA’s 2015 General Assembly Contact List by clicking HERE or at the SCAA’s websiteYou can also use these links: 



Please feel free to share this Call to Action with your friends and colleagues and through social media. Keep up with the latest budget activity and other important arts news by following the SCAA on Facebook and Twitter — just click our icons below!  Thank you!


Please take the time now to support the important work of the South Carolina arts Alliance as the only statewide advocacy organization that advocates for ALL the ARTS and we have a proven record of success!

Just go to: and click the “Donate” button. You can pay on line at our secure web form or use it to indicate other forms of payment.  Your contribution is 100% tax deductible.   


Thank YOU for your support!

Betty Plumb, Executive Director
South Carolina Arts  Alliance

The Senate, as is its wont, resists reforming DOT

While I think it’s great the Senate is trying to come up with even more money to fix our roads, I have to agree with Speaker Lucas on this one:

State senators passed their own version of a plan Tuesday to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, setting up a crash with their counterparts in the S.C. House.

The collision came as the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-8 to replace a House road-repair plan with a Senate proposal. The Senate plan would raise more money for roads — roughly $800 million a year versus $427 million — but also increase the gas tax more — by 12 cents a gallon versus 10 cents….

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said he was “extremely disappointed” the Senate committee did not debate the various parts of the House bill, instead substituting its own proposal.

Lucas called the House’s 87-20 passage of its own roads plan two weeks ago a “courageous vote,” adding senators focused only on “dollar signs,” not the other reforms in the House plan.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, the York Republican who sponsored the House bill, said the resounding House vote — enough to withstand a promised Haley veto — was because that proposal also included reforming the State Infrastructure Bank and S.C. Department of Transportation.

“The Senate bill … has nothing for reform. It has nothing for right-sizing DOT,” Simrill said. “It is just a funding (proposal).”…

Funding the roads without fixing DOT is almost as bad as reforming DOT without funding the roads — as Cindi pointed out today.

We need to do both, and we’ve needed to do both for a long, long time. It’s time lawmakers move away from the past two decades of failing to do either.

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.


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…

Haley’s ‘solution’ for roads: Rob the general fund

On my way home last night, listening on the radio, I heard some things from our governor that sounded pretty good to me, including her continuing initiatives to try to help out poor, rural schools. It was refreshing to hear a South Carolina Republican say, in such a prominent venue, “for the first time in our history, we acknowledged that it costs more to teach those children mired in poverty than those born into a secure economic situation.”

I was less enchanted a moment later, when she announced, “And all of this will be done without spending a single new tax dollar.” In other words, any gains we make in education will be accomplished by cutting back on something else that state government does.

And that brings us to her proposal on paying for roads, which is essentially to take the money out of the general fund, underfunding some other state function.

She says she can go for doing the right and logical thing, the obvious thing we should do without any conditions or contortions — raise the gas tax. But only if we cut the unrelated income tax. (And restructure the transportation agency, which of course is fine — I’ve advocated it for more than two decades — although not necessarily a thing we should hold our breath on while roads and bridges fall apart.)

The foolishness of this would be immediately apparent to everyone if it were a one-to-one swap. If the income tax was dedicated to paying for roads, then no one could miss the idiocy of raising revenues for roads with the left hand while lowering them with the right.

But the income tax doesn’t pay for roads; it goes into the general fund to pay for the rest of government. And among the hate-the-government crowd, the Haley proposal will make sense. How do they get there? By clinging to the belief that most government spending is waste anyway. And to the even more absurd belief that if you just cut off the money tap, efficiencies will magically appear, and only the “waste” will be cut.

I’ll say to this what I always say to such proposals: If you believe the general fund can do without those revenues, then tell us what you want to cut. Make the cuts first, and then reduce the no-longer-needed revenues.

But they won’t do that. That would be hard. They prefer the magical-thinking approach — just cut off the money, and everything will work out OK.

The honest thing would be to say, here is the thing that I think is less important than funding roads. But that would incur a political cost. The governor, and those who will support her idea, just want the warm-and-fuzzy credit that comes from cutting a tax, any tax.

This is the kind of proposal you make when you’re more interested in staying in the good graces of the Grover Norquists than you are in governing.

I think our governor has matured in office in a number of ways. She used to call the discomfort of mainstream Republicans over her sudden rise “a beautiful thing,” with a twinkle of malice in her eye. Now, she uses that phrase in a more positive way:

Whether I’m in California or Connecticut, Montreal or Minnesota, the story of South Carolina’s success is front and center. Everywhere we go there is excitement – and frankly, not a small amount of envy – over who we are and what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s a beautiful thing….

But the deal she is proffering on roads is a dereliction of responsibility.

Again, if we want better roads, we should dig into our pockets (and into the pockets of visitors who use our roads) and pay for them. Magic beans are not a solution.

I do well on the serious tests, badly on the silly ones

Pew quiz2

The trend continues.

There was a story in The Washington Post this morning about the fact that “One third of Americans think the government spends more on foreign aid than on social security.”

Stupid one third. Of course, this is a continuation of the stubborn belief that we spend some huge proportion of our budget on foreign aid, when we spend about 2 percent on it. People continue to get this wrong, against all reason, even though their foolishness has been written about over and over and over and over and over. This is related to the increasing irrational hostility toward government in general — most people don’t like the idea of foreign aid, so they overestimate how much is spent on it.

It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to give up on democracy. On your bad days, anyway. At the least, it underlines the superiority of representative democracy over the direct kind.

Anyway, the story said the findings came from one of those Pew quizzes I like so much, so I immediately went and took this one. I got 11 out of 12 right, putting me ahead of 96 percent of those tested.

But… and here’s the really, really embarrassing thing… I missed the same question as the stupid one-third did. No, I didn’t say “foreign aid.” I gave a different wrong answer. I knew the right answer, and if I had just done it in a hurry, I’d have gotten a 100. But I thought, “I haven’t compared these things in awhile. Maybe this other thing has overtaken the one I think it is. Maybe this is a fargin’ trick question.” So I chose the other thing. But it was, of course, the first thing.

The irony is that if I had done what I have to do taking the weekly Slate News Quiz, I’d have gotten it right. That test is timed, and I hate that about that test. I also hate that it is deliberately about details in the news, rather than about whether you know overall what’s going on, and the relationships between different facts (which is what Pew tests).

Anyway, this being Friday, I went and took that one. And bombed. See the results below.

I would do better on that if it weren’t timed. I can usually see through the red herrings and at least intuit the right answer if I take a little time. But you’re penalized for taking time. So I do badly. Note that I completed the test in one minute, 47 seconds. Which for me is barely enough time to properly consider one question, much less 12.

And yet, I took too much time on the other test. Go figure.

slate quiz

Sheheen’s new education ad

This ad doesn’t strike me much one way or the other, but I thought I’d put it up to see what y’all thought…

Here’s the release that went with it:

NEW TV AD: “Futures” Contrasts Sheheen Vision for Education with Haley Record of Cuts
“A strong economy depends on great schools – and South Carolina deserves both.”
Camden, SC – Sheheen for South Carolina today released a new television ad contrasting Nikki Haley’s repeated vetoes of school funding and teacher pay raises with Sen. Sheheen’s long-standing record of support for public schools and plan to expand four-year-old kindergarten and increase teacher pay. The spot, “Futures,” is part of a substantial six-figure statewide TV buy beginning today.
“Nikki Haley’s veto pen has hit education harder than any other area, and she’s spent three years standing against pay raises for teachers while she increased her own staff’s pay — that’s not leadership we can trust,” said Andrew Whalen, Sheheen’s campaign manager.  “Vincent Sheheen has spent his career fighting for public schools, expanding four-year old kindergarten, and has worked across the aisle to achieve results. South Carolinians deserve honest leadership and accountability from a governor who understands that our children’s future and our economic well-being depends on great schools – that’s Vincent Sheheen.”

And below is supporting material (provided in the email I received, but for some reason not with the version on the website) for the assertions in the ad:


Claim Backup
My mom was a teacher, and my sons go to the same public schools I did.
We know education builds futures.
Image of NH over shot of empty school hallway w headlines/quotes.CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Cut Over $100 Million From Schools

“SC governor’s veto pen has hit education hardest,” Adam Beam, The State, 6/27/2013Of the nearly 200 budget vetoes Gov. Nikki Haley has issued during her three years as governor, no government service has been struck more than public education.
A review of the governor’s budget vetoes shows the first-term Republican has vetoed $110 million worth of public education programs and services since 2011, vetoes that account for more than a quarter of the $419 million she has vetoed in state spending since 2011.
But Nikki Haley cut millions from our schools… “SC governor’s veto pen has hit education hardest,” Adam Beam, The State, 6/27/2013Of the nearly 200 budget vetoes Gov. Nikki Haley has issued during her three years as governor, no government service has been struck more than public education.
A review of the governor’s budget vetoes shows the first-term Republican has vetoed $110 million worth of public education programs and services since 2011, vetoes that account for more than a quarter of the $419 million she has vetoed in state spending since 2011.
Image of NH over shot of empty teacher desk w headlines/quotes.CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Raises for her staff

…and vetoed both teacher pay raises “Gov. Haley Vetoes $10 Million for Teacher Raises,” Robert Kittle, WSAV, 7/6/2012:Gov. Nikki Haley has vetoed 81 items from South Carolina’s budget, including $10 million for local school districts to give teachers raises.
and four year old kindergarten. “Haley, in veto, says early childhood nonprofit needs a closer look,” Jamie Self, The State, 6/12/2014:Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill that supporters say would improve a nonprofit that distributes public money to private pre-kindergarten providers.


Image of NH over shot of empty school auditorium w headlines/quotes.CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Raises for her staff

“Gov. Haley sets premium staff pay,” Jim Davenport, Associated Press, 1/13/2011 

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 per year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained today by The Associated Press.

While giving her own staff twenty five percent raises. 

That’s not leadership we can trust.

“Gov. Haley sets premium staff pay,” Jim Davenport, Associated Press, 1/13/2011 

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 per year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained today by The Associated Press.

VS talking to elementary school kids / talking to teacher in busy school hallway.CG: Vincent Sheheen

CG: Restore School Funding / Raise Teacher Pay

As governor, I’ll restore school funding, and raise teacher pay.
Because a strong economy depends on great schools – and South Carolina deserves both.

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…

Can Tom Ervin spend his way to viability?

Tom Ervin Releases First Campaign Ad as Candidate for Governor from The Post and Courier on Vimeo.

First, I’ve got to learn that his name is “Ervin,” not “Erwin.” I keep confusing him with Joe, the former state Democratic Party chair (and there hasn’t been one as good since).

Maybe his new media blitz can help me with that. (Although I’m dependent on press releases or news coverage of the ads to call them to my attention, since I seldom see these things on the boob tube. All that money spent to place them on broadcast outlets is lost on me. Fortunately for me, it’s impossible to stick them into old episodes of “The West Wing” on Netflix.)

Now I’ll get to the substance, and the question of the day: Will Mr. Ervin’s (just typed “Erwin” again, but caught myself) expenditure of $2 million on three TV ads through Labor Day make him a contender?

Or will it just make him more likely to pull votes from Nikki Haley, thereby putting Vincent Sheheen within reach of a win?

The later seems more credible to me, and it’s apparently what is causing the Sheheen campaign to be very careful not to do anything that might mess with this developing dynamic.

That’s his first ad above, the point of which is to say that Tom is a really nice guy. And also a guy who can afford to do something like this, which has got to be nice.

Here, by the way, is Ervin’s second ad, and his third one. He seems to be pretty good at sounding folksy. It’s a gift for a Southern pol to be able to sound genuine when saying “bidness”…

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 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:


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.

Graham secures funds for deepening Charleston harbor


Now that he’s gotten that GOP primary inconvenience out of the way, he can get back to doing the job that South Carolinians send folk to Congress for:

Graham Secures Charleston Harbor Deepening Funds

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a member of the Senate Appropriations Energy & Water subcommittee, applauded the passage of its FY 2015 appropriations bill which contains funding for the Charleston Harbor Deepening Feasibility Study and design and construction of the Charleston Port.

“This is a very good day for the Port of Charleston,” said Graham, a member of the subcommittee.  “I’m pleased my Republican and Democrat Senate colleagues understood the value of the Port of Charleston and fully funded the port even though the Corps of Engineers, as a whole, received a budget reduction.  We also added language to the bill that will streamline moving from the study phase to the engineering and design phase of this project.  I think this speaks volumes about the value of the Charleston Port to the state, region, and country as a whole.”

Graham noted the legislation contains $695,000 for continuing the Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study of deepening Charleston Harbor, $1.572 million for future harbor deepening construction, and $13.149 million for continued harbor operations and maintenance.

Graham was an early and ardent advocate for deepening Charleston Harbor and has fought repeatedly to secure federal authorization and funding for the project. The legislation passed through subcommittee yesterday and is expected to pass the full committee this week.


Not that I’m being critical of his bringing home the bacon. No Tea Partier am I. Securing funding for deepening the port upon which our state depends so greatly is a good thing.

So good work, senator…

Haley vetoes: From First Steps to legislator pay

When I saw that the governor had vetoed First Steps (much beloved of Democrats since it was started by Jim Hodges), my first thought was, Huh. Maybe she DID mean we would “no longer educate children,” The younger ones, anyway.

Democrats are certainly hoping voters will see it that way. They are howling blue murder. Even the normally calm Rep. James Smith — the original sponsor of First Steps — got a bit shrill:

“Governor Haley has once again used her veto pen to stick it to education in South Carolina. First she vetoes $110 million in education funding, then she vetoes funding to keep teachers in the classroom, and now she wants to eliminate the First Steps early childhood education initiative. This governor has never truly supported education in this state and no election year gimmick can change that reality. Today’s veto is just another example of Governor Haley saying one thing and doing another. We look forward to overriding her veto next week and denying her the ability to once again play politics with our children’s future.”

But when I read The State‘s story, I had to admit that I don’t know, personally, how effective First Steps, which supports programs in private preschools, has been. So the governor’s wish to see it studied further before authorizing it for more than a year at a time doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

I do find it ironic that she is vetoing something that sends public money to private educators.

Then there’s the matter of the governor’s veto of the pay raise lawmakers voted themselves. She says she isn’t arguing with the pay raise itself; she objects to the way they did it. That’s where I have to disagree with her. She thinks such a thing should be decided by referendum. Well, you know what I think of government by plebiscite. Lawmakers have to face the voters after voting themselves something like this. That’s enough of a check on their fiscal self-interest.

On the whole, the governor is ending the session the way she began it — as a kinder, gentler wielder of the veto pen. For instance, no veto of the Arts Commission. And as The State said, the total “amount cut with this year’s proposed vetoes is by far the smallest since Haley took office in 2011.”

Maybe she really has changed. What do y’all think?

OK, well, just how graphic IS it?

I hadn’t paid much attention to the foofooraw over “gay-themed” books at the College of Charleston and USC Upstate, but something I saw at the top of this morning’s story did give me pause:

The College of Charleston assigned students to read “Fun Home,” a graphic memoir about the author’s struggle with family and sexual orientation. The University of South Carolina Upstate assigned “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” about being gay in the South…

Hold on — graphic? How graphic? I hadn’t seen the word, “graphic” before.

At this point, I supposed I could channel Woody Allen in “Sleeper” and offer to go off and study the material in detail and give you a full report later. But let’s just discuss it in the abstract first.

In this story, critics of the reading lists are couching their objections in terms of objecting to “pornography” at public institutions. Which seems to me a legitimate objection, if you’re one of the people expected to appropriate money for it. That is, if it is pornography. Having not yet conducted that in-depth study, I can’t say.

But if it is, I wonder — with all the fantastic literature that most undergraduates will never get around to reading in their entire lives, why does the curriculum need to have anything in it that a news story would matter-of-factly describe as “graphic.” It’s not like these kids don’t have access to porn websites. In what way is graphic material of any sort providing them with knowledge they can’t get without paying college tuition?

I tried to think of anything that I was assigned to read in school that was “graphic,” back in the licentious early ’70s, the days of “Deep Throat” and Plato’s Retreat.

The best I could come up with was Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I vaguely recall one dispiriting passage describing an adulterous liaison engaged in by Harry Angstrom. I don’t think anyone would call it “graphic.” It probably wouldn’t earn an “R” rating today (although the sequel, Rabbit Redux, which I read after college, certainly would have). It wasn’t nearly as prurient as God’s Little Acre, say.Caldwell172-GodsLittleAcre-frontCover

We read it because Updike was supposedly one of the great fiction writers of his generation. In that same class, we also read Crime and Punishment. Needless to say, the latter made a much deeper impression on me. I found Updike mostly… depressing.

I don’t feel deprived for not having studied anything “graphic” in school.

Thoughts about this? I mean, set aside the “gay-themed” bit that makes headlines. Let’s say we’re talking pure hetero. Is there any need for public institutions to use “graphic” reading material outside of a public health class?

My own gut reaction is to say “no,” although I supposed I could also without straining myself mount an argument that Erskine Caldwell‘s books are at least culturally relevant to South Carolina.

Such a discussion won’t lead to a resolution of this particular controversy, but I find the question intriguing…

Russia now spends more of GDP on military than we do

In Putin's worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory...

In Putin’s worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory…

That’s attention-grabbing, but it shouldn’t be all that shocking, given that a), the Russian economy is smaller than ours and b), the United States itself spends less of GDP on the military than it did for most of my lifetime.

But still, as things ratchet up in Ukraine, this is worth taking note of…

Oh, and what’s my source for this? Is it some warmongering neocon publication, trying to drum up sentiment for increased U.S. military spending? Nope, it was The Guardian, which is hugging itself with delight today for winning a Pulitzer for aiding and abetting Edward Snowden. So there.

An excerpt:

Russia spent a higher proportion of its wealth on arms than the US last year for the first time in more than a decade, according to figures published on Monday by a leading international research body that highlights Moscow’s resurgent military ambition as it confronts the west over Ukraine.

Western countries, including Britain and the US, reduced defence budgets, but Russia increased arms spending by 4.8% in real terms last year to almost $88bn (£52m), devoting a bigger share of its GDP to the military than the US for the first time since 2003, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri)….

I didn’t take the Policy Council’s kind of math in school

We could all identify with the scene from “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which Peggy Sue, transported back 30 years to her high school algebra class, tells the teacher (when he demands to know why she blew off a test), “Well, uh, Mr. Snelgrove, I happen to know that in the future, I will not have the slightest use for algebra. And I speak from experience.”

Well, today I needed algebra. And not Algebra I or II, but something I learned how to do in Algebra 5 (in Hawaii, they counted by semesters) or Analytical Geometry or Introduction to Calculus. Or maybe full-fledged Calculus. One of those.

I saw this Tweet from our anti-government friends at the SC Policy Council:

There is nothing “conservative” about a budget that’s grown nearly 40% over the past decade.  #sctweets

So I immediately tried to calculate what that was annually. I knew it had to be less than 4 percent, but how much less?

I was pretty sure that I once knew how to set up an equation that would give me the answer, but I had no idea how to do it now. (I thought, Is this a “related rates” problem? I seem to remember that phrase vaguely. But no, I don’t think it is…)

So I guessed, trying several numbers that felt about right. And I found that adding 3.4 percent per year for ten years gave me an increase of a little under 40 percent. (I think I did that right.) So I replied to the Policy Council,

Or in other words, about 3.4 percent or so a year. That’s what you’re saying, right?

Now, I’ll grant you that 3.4 percent a year is nothing to sneeze at. That’s a healthy rate of growth, although not alarmingly high to your average observer.

However… I knew that that sounded WAY higher than what we actually experienced in SC over the last year. And I became immediately suspicious that the Policy Council wasn’t talking about state spending at all, but was throwing in increased federal spending — in other words, funds that our conservative Legislature was in no way involved in levying taxes to raise. So I followed the link, and I was right:

While the General Fund has only grown by 1.76 percent (again accounting for inflation), the bulk of budget growth has come from dependence on Other Funds (27.61 percent increase) and Federal Funds (36.77 percent increase). There is nothing “conservative” about an increasing budget, regardless of where the increases are coming from. Indeed, the budget is even less “conservative” now than ever since reliance on federal funds includes the loss of sovereignty by forcing the state to comply with the federal mandates attached to that funding. Moreover, there is nothing conservative about a budget that doesn’t return surplus money back to the taxpayers.

This reminded me of something that I didn’t realize about modern libertarians until I’d been exposed to Mark Sanford for several years.

I used to think that their objection was to paying for growing government. That they just didn’t like paying their taxes. And through the Reagan era and for a couple of decades after, I think that was to a large extent true — the supposed “pain” of paying taxes did indeed seem to lie at the emotional center of anti-government feeling.

But by the time we were done with Sanford’s battle to keep federal stimulus money out of SC, I had fully realized the extent to which the objection wasn’t to spending their money on government — it was to government itself. If a genie from a bottle made the wealth appear from thin air, the Sanford kind of libertarian would object to it being spent on government programs. Because of this quasi-religious belief that government itself, by existing, was an encroachment on the poor, beleaguered libertarian’s “freedom.”

Which reminds us once again that the policy council doesn’t want conservative government at all. It wants our legislators to be classically liberal.

Which is why, even if I remembered everything from every math class I ever took, I wouldn’t come up with the same answers the Policy Council does in trying to quantify “conservatism.”

The Legislature has been consistently “conservative” by the Reagan-era standard. They have held the line on taxes — cutting them at every turn — ever since Republicans first took over the House at the end of 1994. They have tightly contained the growth in funding sources that they control. And they’ve consistently starved essential functions of government to the extent that they’ve been at best marginally effective. (You can see this most dramatically when you look at our transportation infrastructure, but it’s true in the areas of education, law enforcement, public health, prisons, and so forth.)

But no, they haven’t quite shrunk it to the size that they’ve been able to drown it in a bathtub. Yet. And there are interest groups who won’t be happy until they succeed in doing that — no matter where the money is coming from.

Fisher ticked off about the wrong end of the penny tax contracting debacle

File photo of Kevin Fisher as a candidate.

File photo of Kevin Fisher as a candidate.

In Kevin Fisher’s latest column, he expresses ire over the episode in which Richland County Council first gave the contract for managing hundreds of millions worth of roadwork to the out-of-state contractor ICA Engineering, then yanked it back.

But instead of being indignant that in initially awarding the contract, the council utterly blew off the concerns of the citizen panel appointed to be a watchdog over the spending of the penny tax, Kevin is mad that council responded to public outrage by calling for a do-over:

Indeed, while our local government is now conducting the people’s business in a manner that would make Vladimir Putin proud, the citizens of Richland County, S.C., USA should be ashamed.


I’d like to say we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, but we always take it. I don’t know why that is, but it is. It’s an unusual civic tradition.

In the case of the award/unaward of that $50 million engineering and construction contract, I would love to have seen the winner/non-winner (ICA Engineering) take Richland County straight to court. However, the company has instead chosen to swallow hard and bid again, and if that is their business judgment I respect it and wish them well.

But I can assure County Council that if they had done the same thing to me, aggressive attorneys would have already been hired, a massive lawsuit filed and a legal colonoscopy would be underway on them both individually and as a public body….

First, an aside… I have to confess that I’m sort of unclear about what Peter Finch’s character was so mad about, or why it struck such a chord among the viewing public, in “Network.” Maybe it was clear to me when I saw it back in 1976, but I never liked the film enough to see it again, and it’s slipped my mind…

End of digression…

I’ll agree with Kevin that this is not the way public contracting usually goes. But then, public bodies seldom act with such disregard to a body created to make sure the public will is followed. Frankly, I don’t think the creation of such a body should have been necessary. But it was part of the deal that gave the council these funds to disburse, and a deal is a deal, as Kevin would apparently agree.

Kevin’s column was brought to my attention by Luther Battiste, who had a strong interest in having the bidding process start over, as a member of the local team that had scored higher than ICA, but didn’t get the contract. He wrote this to Kevin:

Mr. Fisher : I  read with great interest your column particularly because of my 15 years on Columbia City Council.  I actually agree with you much of the time and believe you raise the issues that need to be contemplated and discussed. I am part of the team that finished second in the voting for the contract to manage the ” penny tax” funds.  Our prime contractor is local and our team was local, diverse and extremely qualified. I think you missed the ” issue” in your recent column.  CECS followed the dictates of the Request for Proposal and was rated number  one by staff in their rating of the groups. ICA which is actually and out of state firm was rated third thirty points below CECS.  Richland County Council after receiving legal advice decided that there were problems with the process of awarding the contract.  I think you probably did not have all the facts when you reached the conclusion that ICA was mistreated and should pursue legal action. I hope you take my comments as constructive.  I look forward to reading future columns.




Other side heard from: ICA says they’re local, too…

Apparently, ICA — which won the nod of Richland County Council to manage the penny sales tax construction projects — is concerned about the protests over their getting the job. They’ve sent out a mailer to some local folks, including our own Silence Dogood, protesting that they, too, are local folks. An excerpt:

In fact, ICA Engineering, formerly known as Florence & Hutcheson, has been a part of – and grown with – Columbia and Richland County for the last 30 years. From five employees in downtown Columbia in 1984, we now have 30 professionals who live, work, invest and raise their families right here. All work for the Penny Sales Tax contract will be performed in Richland County. For the past 30 years, ICA Engineering and its employees have paid state, county and city taxes here. We are also proud of the fact that the vast majority of these local employees are graduates of engineering programs at The Citadel, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina.
We also support many local charities and community organizations. We actively serve in our community through homeowners associations, churches and professional societies. I recently served as chair of the Issues Committee for the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. We have supported organizations such as Epworth Children’s Home and the Special Olympics. Many of us have served on School Improvement Councils and have been a part of Leadership Columbia as well. We also support and are active in local economic development agencies, like the Central SC Alliance, that focus on growing the area’s economy and creating jobs….

You can read the whole letter here. Yeah, I’ve been rooting for the team that was rated No. 1 and didn’t get the job, CECS. But never let it be said that I don’t give you everybody’s point of view. Within reason, of course.

Yeah, y’all had BETTER go hide in Clemson…

When I saw this in the paper the other day:

CLEMSON — Drivers in Richland County could see the first road improvement projects funded by a local sales tax completed by year’s end.

Meeting in Clemson for a two-day planning retreat, Richland County Council members seemed eager to get started on six intersection improvement projects outlined by transportation director Rob Perry.

The $15 million in construction could involve enhancements for pedestrians and cyclists at the intersections as well, said Perry and his deputy, Chris Gossett.

“I’m ready,” several members chimed in after Perry asked for an endorsement….

My first thought was, Yeah, Richland County Council, you’d better go hide in Clemson if you want to talk about penny-tax roads

I say that because of what was mentioned in the next paragraph of the story:

First, the county must resolve a protest over the hiring of a project management firm brought by the second-place finisher. Chairman Norman Jackson said he’s hopeful there will be a resolution soon…

I don’t see how there would be a “resolution” unless Council opens the process back up and reconsiders its decision.

Not because it’s what I want them to do. After all, as I said before, ADCO did some work (a brochure) for the group that scored higher in the bidding process, but didn’t get the contract. We’re not doing any work for them now, but I was impressed by the team CECS had assembled. Of course, I haven’t heard presentations from the other groups.

But as I said, don’t go by me. I’m not the problem. The problem is that the penny tax watchdog group is mad at you for not picking CECS. You know, the group that was created in order to assure the public that everything would be on the up-and-up as the billion dollars from the new tax is spent.

And they’ve got a big problem with the very first big decision you made — perhaps the biggest decision you will ever make — with regard to spending the money.

So yeah, I believe I’d want to discuss it out of town, too.

By the way, here’s a copy of the CECS protest. To quote from it:

As you know, the TPAC is a Citizen Advisory Committee. They are not employees of the County, they are citizens chosen for their wide range of expertise, serving in a voluntary capacity. Their mission is to provide advice and transparency to the program. The Selection Committee was a group of Richland County employees – professionals, who were empaneled to evaluate and rank the proposals submitted as a result of the solicitation for the Richland County Transportation Penny Program Development Team. The Selection Committee and scoring will reveal this once it is made public as required by law. Once County Council entered the process, the very problems that the TPAC and Selection Committee were designed to prevent arose, and an inferior, lower ranked, out of state firm was selected. Council ignored and overrode the scoring and results of the Professional Staff comprising the Selection Committee, the established selection criteria, the Small and Local Business Enterprise Ordinances which were designed to favor businesses with a local headquarters, the desires of the TPAC and the overall intent of the Transportation Penny Program as authorized by the voters of Richland County….

Yes, exactly. And here is the relief CECS seeks:

The damage done by Council’s mishandling and deviation from published RFP processes can only be undone by a cancellation of the Notice of Intent to Award to ICA and an award to the top ranked vendor, CECS – the locally headquartered company that offered the most advantage to the County by offering the best combination of quality, cost, local ownership, minority ownership, local participation and employment. Under the applicable protest Ordinances, as Procurement Director, you have the power and the duty to correct these violations of law by re-awarding the contract to CECS.

CECS requests that the notice of intent to award to ICA be stayed, that the County employees make prompt production of all requested public records, that an appropriate Due Process and FOIA complaint public hearing be held in connection with this protest. CECS further asks that all of the decisions and actions that resulted in the notice of intent to award to ICA be reversed, and that the notice of intent to award be issued forthwith to the local Richland County vendor, CECS, which was legitimately chosen by the team of qualified evaluators chosen by the County as the best proposal….

This document has not been filed in court. In accordance with procedure, it has been filed with Rodolfo Callwood, director of procurement with the county. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Callwood does, since the council has spoken…