Category Archives: Taxes

This morning’s CRBR legislative panel

Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Nathan Ballentine, Rep. Beth Bernstein, and Otis Rawl of the state Chamber.

Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Nathan Ballentine, Rep. Beth Bernstein, and Otis Rawl of the state Chamber.

I went to this morning’s “Legislative Lowdown” breakfast sponsored by the Columbia Regional Business Report. I waited and let Chuck Crumbo go ahead and write about it, since he gets paid to, and here’s his report. Use that as a baseline.

The panel was the same as this one in 2010, only with Rep. Beth Bernstein in place of Rep. James Smith.

Here are a few random impressions I formed:

First, while I think these annual sessions have been highly informative and fair to all viewpoints, CRBR should probably make an extra effort to get more Republicans on the panel, just to more accurately reflect realities. I wouldn’t take any of the Democrats away; I’d add a couple more Republicans — maybe Kenny Bingham and John Courson, or Katrina Shealy.

Here’s the one thing I Tweeted out during the session:

Otis wasn’t saying we shouldn’t have ethics reform, but he certainly seemed to regard it as a distraction, as a plate of vegetables with no meat, saying, “I know they’ve got to do this,” but… His tone reminded me of the bank examiner in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Remember George Bailey, all animated, telling him about the fact that his brother is going to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from the president, and the bank examiner says, without a shred of interest, “Well, I guess they do those things….”

Well, that’s Otis being told about ethics reform. He supposes legislators have to get this ethics stuff out of their system, but he’ll be glad when they’re done and move on from it.

Now in his defense, he sees the urgent need for workforce preparation, infrastructure and other things that bear on our economic well-being, and he should be focused on those things. But he was really a wet blanket on the ethics stuff.

Others were more interested in the topic. Rep. Bernstein predicted that, again, the sticking point will be independent oversight, instead of lawmakers policing themselves. She said that was key, but signaled willingness in a pinch to accept a “hybrid” approach, with some lawmaker participation.

On Medicaid expansion, Sen. Joel Lourie said two things that interested me. First that Christian Soura, the guy Nikki Haley just appointed to replace Tony Keck at HHS despite his never having done anything like that, is a very impressive guy. I’ve gotta meet this guy, if Joel thinks that. Or at the least, hear an elaboration on what impressed Joel. Then, he said he appreciates the position of those who oppose Medicaid expansion because they’re worried about the state having to pay 10 percent of the cost after three years. I usually don’t hear Democrats say things like that.

As Chuck noted in the lede of his report, there was pretty much a consensus that for lawmakers to act meaningfully on paying for roads, there would have to be a lot of pressure on them from outside the State House. Sen. Lourie said there are three kinds of people in the Legislature on this — those who clearly see the need to come up with road funding, those who can maybe be talked into it, and “the not no, but ‘hell no’ group.” Republican Nathan Ballentine said that was accurate, and “The majority in the House, the majority in my party, are in the ‘hell no’ category.” He says he’s not afraid of raising the gas tax, and noted that he voted for the cigarette tax increase awhile back. But getting the rest to go along will take heavy lifting, especially with the governor’s veto threat. There was discussion of raising fees for driver’s licenses. Otis Rawl noted that we only pay about $2 a year for those, and certainly, he asserted, it’s worth more than that for our families to travel on safe roads (and for our goods to get to market, he was quick to add).

It was predicted that roads, ethics and one other matter — reacting to the Supreme Court decision saying the Legislature hasn’t done enough to educate children in poor, rural districts — will dominate the session. The general consensus among these suburban lawmakers was that whatever is done for the poor, rural districts, it not be taken away from the affluent suburban districts. Which to me indicates more money would have to come into state coffers, although I didn’t hear anyone say that overtly.

And of course, more than money is needed. After talking about how bad things are in Marion County, Sen. Lourie said, “Maybe we don’t need three districts in Marion County.”

That caused me to break my rule about not asking questions at such events. I rose to suggest that everyone talks about school district consolidation until it strikes close to home. I agree that there shouldn’t be three districts in Marion County, but I asked, “should there be three districts in Richland County, and five in Lexington?”

He actually had a good answer. As he said, if the state is going to help out Marion County in ways that Richland and Lexington districts aren’t asking it to do and don’t need it to do, then there’s an extra expectation that Marion should do some things it can do on its own — like getting rid of duplicative administration. Rep. Ballentine agreed, saying there’s a much greater imperative to consolidate in districts with fewer students total than you would find in a single school in the city.

Yes, they’re right. The case for consolidation is much more compelling in the rural districts. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good thing in the big counties, as well.

Anyway, that’s my rambling report…

 

Curtis Loftis helped me decide to vote ‘yes’ on sales tax

As I told y’all, I was really agonizing over the Lexington County sales tax referendum. I knew the county needed some infrastructure funds, but we’ve really put a lot of stress on the sales tax in this state, and the proposal lacked the thing that made me get behind the Richland County penny — the support for the bus system.

But SC Treasurer Curtis Loftis helped me make up my mind, with this release last Friday:

Hi,

Many local governments and special interest groups across our state have decided that now is the time to raise your taxes. I understand their arguments because I also want better roads, education, drainage, and infrastructure.  However, as your State Treasurer, I have seen how all levels of government “manage and protect” your money, and the current standards are simply unacceptable.

I probably don’t live in your county, so I must respect your right to tax yourselves. However, we must have fundamental change in how our government operates. Implementing true fiscal responsibility and accountability are the first steps government can take to earn our trust.

Since the government and special interests want our money now, the time we should bargain for a “better deal” is now. Let’s say NO to new taxes and YES to meaningful transparency and accountability. Let’s say NO to back room deals with special interest and YES to high-ranking government officials being held responsible for protecting our money and delivering a quality product.

I’m going to vote NO on new taxes at the polls on Tuesday, and I encourage you to do the same.  Let’s give the government and special interests a rain check for a vote on new money until the proper measures are in place to protect our money and deliver what is promised by special interests.

Be well,

Curtis Loftis
Treasurer, State of South Carolina

The next morning, I read in the paper that Loftis was specifically opposing the Lexington sales tax proposal.

Really? Here you are, the top fiscal officer (or one of them) of our state, and you’re going out of your way to say something about a local tax proposal, and that’s it? Instead of an analysis of the pros and cons, you essentially say, “I’m against tax increases, so I’m against this one.” That, and “government is a bad thing, and when it raises taxes, it’s just for special interests, and never for the public’s benefit.” The kind of vague universal condemnation of Man and all his works that a malcontent with no political power (or, who thinks he has no political power) might sit at a bar and mutter to the bartender after a couple too many.

Yeah, thanks for helping me work through this one, guy!

Of course, I was helped even more by Warren Bolton’s thoughtful column Sunday, in which he set out the one argument that settled it for me:

WHILE LEXINGTON County’s proposed Penny for Pavement tax plan has its shortcomings, there’s a grim reality that voters need to understand as they consider whether to approve the measure aimed at addressing chronic congestion, traffic problems and road safety.

No other help is on the way…

Basically, there’s no Plan B. Local governments have few options when it comes to paying for roadwork that the state can’t seem to get its act together on. This was the plan. If important projects were to be funded, this was the option.

So I voted for it.

Trying to make up my mind on the Lexington sales tax hike

This story in The State today reminds me that I have to decide by next week whether to vote for the Lexington County penny tax increase.

I checked with Warren Bolton to see whether they’re going to have anything about it on the editorial page. He said there will be something, and I look forward to reading it. Y’all may think of me as a guy who comes equipped with a full set of strongly-held opinions, and to some extent that’s true. But my daily discussions with Warren and Cindi — and back in the halcyon days, Mike Fitts and Nina Brook and before them John Monk and Claudia Brinson — helped me refine and correct and hone my views. I was always smarter about an issue after discussing it with them. Even if I still had the same general view I went in with (which, I admit, was usually the case), I had a better grasp on it, and had sanded off the rough edges, when I came out.US_One_Cent_Obv

And when, as with this case, I’m not sure what to think, such a discussion always helped me make up my mind. (That dynamic, by the way — the testing of one’s thoughts against those of a group of thoughtful people — is what editorials, and especially endorsements, are all about. Even if you disagree with the piece, and don’t change your mind, you’ll be smarter about the way you approach the issue for having tested your views against the ones you read.)

I know that if I could sit in a regular morning meeting with my friends on the edit board, I could arrive at a conclusion that I would be comfortable with, and that I could support and defend. Lacking that, I look forward to seeing what they publish.

The problem I have making up my mind on the Lexington penny is that it’s just for roads and infrastructure. I backed the penny in Richland because half of it went to the buses. I’d have backed it more enthusiastically if it had all gone to public transportation. But Lexington County largely turns its back on the bus system, and is all about cars and roads. Which bothers me…

OK, it’s not ALL about cars and roads. There’s some other infrastructure in there. But I’m happy to pay the Richland penny because it’s funding something that is an alternative to cars and roads, and which the community needed, and which it was having trouble paying for otherwise. (And though I do live in Lexington, I probably spend at least as much on taxable items in Richland.)

Then there’s also the problem that we’re already leaning on the sales tax too much in this state. It’s crept up to where it’s on the border of being too high if not there already, while property and income taxes aren’t bearing their share of the load (OK, business property taxes are, but primary-residence taxes are not).

And as I’ve said repeatedly, we have a mechanism for building and maintaining roads — the state gasoline tax. That needs to be raised, rather than just raising sales taxes here and there across the state.

At the same time, that is still a tough row to hoe, and in the meantime we have inadequate roads. So I struggle with this.

Maybe y’all can help me with this. The morning meeting is hereby convened…

STILL no victims of Department of Revenue breach

When an alert reader brought this to my attention, I thought that maybe I’d been wrong about no one yet being harmed by the huge SC Department of Revenue security breach. In other words, maybe Vincent Sheheen was in “luck,” in that there was a rich vein of wronged taxpayers out there ready to channel resentment at Nikki Haley:

Calls pour in to ID theft unit

South Carolina’s tax agency hacked in October 2013

By Tim Smith

Staff writer tcsmith@greenvillenews.com 

COLUMBIA — The incidents are an all too familiar and scary part of modern life: a monthly statement shows someone has been fraudulently using your credit card; a store where you’ve never shopped sends you a notice demanding repayment of charges you’ve never made; a laptop be­longing to a government agency with your personal data has been stolen.

Two years after a hacker broke into South Carolina’s tax agency and took data belonging to 3.6 million taxpayers, the in­cidence and threats of identity theft are so pervasive that a four-person state unit reg­ularly handles calls about the subject.

In fact, since October 2013, when the identity theft unit for the state Depart­ment of Consumer Affairs began operat­ing, more than 3,300 people have called to talk about identity theft or some type of scam, some of which are attempts at iden­tity theft, said Juliana Harris, a spokes­woman for the agency. “I definitely know that calls are up,”she said….

But then, I got to this line, way, way down in the story (the 27th graf; not many news stories these days even have 27 paragraphs):

After the Department of Revenue breach, she said she stayed on the phone constantly all day, with every one of her lines lit up. She said she might have talked to 100 people per day following the revenue department hacking.

No one has come forward since the breach saying it has caused their identity to be stolen, she said. 

So. We have yet to see our first victim of the huge hack at DoR. I mean, we’re pretty much all of us “victims” in that our data were stolen. But who has been harmed by that yet?

By the way, you might want to read Cindi Scoppe’s column today on how Sheheen is emphasizing the wrong things in his criticisms of the incumbent — but also how he has little choice, since the right things are so hard to explain…

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.

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. http://bit.ly/1paA3HT  #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.

Again.

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.

Thoughts?

 

 

So I’m in Hilton Head, and I’m OK. Honest

That's me, blown up beyond recognition, during the panel discussion.

That’s me, blown up beyond recognition, during the panel discussion.

Concern has been expressed that I haven’t posted since Friday.

But I’m OK. I just had a busy weekend, and a busier Monday.

Today, I drove down to Hilton head to moderate a panel at PRT’s annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel. Really; it’s a thing. It has a hashtag and everything.

I moderated a panel of legislators talking tourism topics. Panelists were:

  1. Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg
  2. Rep. W. Brian White, R-Anderson (chairman of Ways and Means)
  3. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg
  4. Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort

Mostly they were all very friendly to tourism. Rep Erickson wasn’t the only one favoring beach renourishment, for instance, even though she was the only one from an entirely coastal district.

If there was a split, it came when we talked about funding for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges.

And it wasn’t a particularly stark division.

The audience was very much against using tourism-directed funds, such as the hospitality and accommodations taxes, for roads. The entire panel expressed sympathy with that position. But when it came to increasing the gasoline tax, only the Democrats — who don’t have to worry about Tea Party opponents in upcoming primaries — were unapologetically for it.

But Chairman White seemed to be willing to go for the idea theoretically, at some unspecified point in the future.

It’s interesting — in my experience, the gas tax is the one tax that conservatives (regular, old-fashioned, Chamber of Commerce-type conservatives, not the latter-day Tea Party kind) are usually willing to back. But it’s a problem for Republicans in SC, after the governor’s promise to veto any such increase.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this issue develops going forward — IF it develops…

Richland County Shocker: Council does right thing, restarts process

Hey, I’m kind of stunned that, after having been arrogant and dismissive over community reaction to its unexplained decision to award the contract for managing all that road construction that the new penny tax would buy, Richland County Council has done a complete about-face and voted unanimously to vacate that decision, and start the selection process over.

This is good news. And I say that not just because CECS, the local bidder who came in second — despite getting higher scores than the out-of-state firm that the county initially selected — is a client of ADCO’s. I’m saying it because the county had given the citizen’s watchdog panel — and by extension, the entire community — a slap in the face, the way this was done the first time. Not only did the county ignore the panel’s wishes, it refused to give any reasons for its selection of Kentucky-based ICA Engineering. Some council members were pretty obnoxious about it.

That was outrageous, and this stunning turnaround was warranted. The people of Richland County — and those of us who don’t live in the county, but will pay the tax — deserve a do-over, and a transparent one.

This is a very encouraging development — responsive local government officials who can admit when they’ve made a mistake! Next thing you know, the county legislative delegation will give up control of the county election commission. OK, maybe I’m getting all giddy and carried away here…

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…

Penny watchdog group upset over selection of contractor

I was surprised this didn’t make the front of The State today (yeah, there was other big news, but it’s still possible, you know, to get more than four stories onto a front), given that it’s about the group appointed to be a watchdog on the penny sales tax being very unhappy with the county’s biggest decision on spending the road-construction money:

Members of a citizen watchdog committee objected Monday to the selection of an out-of-town engineering firm to manage Richland County’s transportation improvement program.2005-Penny-Uncirculated-Obverse-cropped

“I’m sure you’re a great firm,” Elise Bidwell told members of ICA Engineering’s team, introduced to the transportation penny advisory committee. “But I want to know how much of the money … is actually going to go to people in Richland County for doing the job.”

Committee members said they heard the second-place finisher was rated higher than ICA on their commitment to hiring small, local and minority subcontractors.

But transportation director Rob Perry would not discuss the ratings. He said they were a private part of contract negotiations.

Richland County Council set up the 17-member citizen advisory committee, short-handed as TPAC, to oversee details of the county’s massive transportation improvement program – which got under way with last week’s pick of a project manager.

But committee members said they should have been consulted. Since they were not given the rationale behind the decision, some said, the selection plays into the hands of those skeptical about government….

Richland County Council selected ICA Engineering, headquartered in Kentucky, over Columbia-based CECS Engineering Consulting Services and three other firms.

The highly competitive contract, valued at $50 million over five years, sets in motion the beginning of the county’s massive transportation improvement package…

Disclosure: This is particularly interesting to me because ADCO did some work (a brochure) for the CECS group, which had scored higher than the group that got the contract.

It’s also interesting because I advocated for the penny (and would do so again), and this committee was set up to assuage the concerns of others about how the money would be spent, and members of the panel seem to think they’re being blown off by the county.

Which is not good.

I don’t know what can, or even should, happen going forward (like the panel, I’m sort of in the dark here), but this deserves further, very public, discussion.

The cigarette tax increase, modest as it was, is working

We didn’t increase the state cigarette tax nearly enough, but at least, back in 2010, we finally did raise it, after years of dithering. Here’s the result, from the AP:

State health officials say a survey of South Carolina teens shows cigarette use among high school students has dropped significantly in the past two years.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control said Thursday that their South Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey found about 15 percent of high school students have smoked. In 2011, nearly 24 percent of students said they had used cigarettes.

DHEC credits the drop to the increase in cigarette taxes in 2010 and aggressive anti-smoking campaigns. The agency also points out that 53 of the state’s 81 school districts are tobacco-free. Only 36 school districts banned all tobacco products in 2011….

As we kept explaining all those years when I was at the paper, the reason to raise the cigarette tax had nothing to do with the revenues or what they’d be used for. It was a well-established fact that increasing the cost of cigarettes reduces the number of kids who get hooked on a lifetime addiction.

And now we see the expected result.

Some talking points on the library bond vote

I haven’t seen a lot out there about the Richland Library bond vote on the Nov. 5 ballot. So I thought I’d pass on this memo I received from folks who are pushing for a “yes”:

Dear Friends,

 

Did you know the Richland Library bond referendum will be on the November 5 ballot?  Below is some basic information.  If you would like more details or how to be involved in Vote For Our Libraries, contact us!  betty@voteforourlibraries.com  803-233-2414

Richland Library

 

Since 2007, the library has had a capital needs plan that calls for renovations and additions to all library facilities based on the changing ways we serve and advance our community.

 

Key Facts:

 

Why is the Library Requesting a Bond Referendum?

Voter approved bonds are the only way the library can obtain substantial funds for building and renovations. The goal is to update all library locations by adding and reconfiguring space, technology and resources to better fit the way customers need and use the library today. The capital needs plan was developed in 2007 and is reviewed each year. The only new buildings are Ballentine and Sandhills. Following green building guidelines and sustainable practices will mean substantial energy savings for all locations.

 

Why now?

It’s been 24 years since the last bond referendum in 1989, and most of our facilities haven’t been significantly improved or updated since then. Interest rates are at an all-time low – it costs half as much today for twice the value added in 1989.

 

What will it cost the taxpayer?

Estimates indicate the maximum impact on taxpayers to be $12-14/year for a $100,000 home. For as little as one cup of coffee each month, we can ensure access to needed resources and technology, as well as the opportunity to share information and exchange ideas.

 

Why spend money on libraries when everyone has a smartphone/tablet?

Technology has made libraries more essential to their communities – not obsolete. In fact, many people in Richland County rely on the library for access to technology, computers and the Internet. Even if you may not use the library, your friends, family and neighbors are most likely relying on its services.

No, Obama isn’t Nixon, much less worse. It’s not even close

It’s getting to where I find Peggy Noonan more and more tiresome, but keep reading, hoping for flashes of the grace and thoughtfulness I used to admire.

Her column over the weekend was a typical sad example. An excerpt:

The Benghazi scandal was and is shocking, and the Justice Department assault on the free press, in which dogged reporters are tailed like enemy spies, is shocking. Benghazi is still under investigation and someday someone will write a great book about it. As for the press, Attorney General Eric Holder is on the run, and rightly so. They called it the First Amendment for a reason. But nothing can damage us more as a nation than what is happening at the Internal Revenue Service. Elite opinion in the press and in Washington doesn’t fully understand this. Part of the reason is that it’s not their ox being gored, it’s those messy people out in America with their little patriotic groups.

Those who aren’t deeply distressed about the IRS suffer from a reluctance or inability to make distinctions, and a lack of civic imagination.

An inability to make distinctions: “It’s always been like this.” “Presidents are always siccing the IRS on their enemies.” There’s truth in that. We’ve all heard the stories of the president who picked up the phone and said, “Look into this guy,” Richard Nixon most showily. He got clobbered for it. It was one of the articles of impeachment.

But this scandal is different and distinctive. The abuse was systemic—from the sheer number of targets and the extent of each targeting we know many workers had to be involved, many higher-ups, multiple offices. It was ideological and partisan—only those presumed to be of one political view were targeted. It has a single unifying pattern: The most vivid abuses took place in the years leading up to the president’s 2012 re-election effort. And in the end several were trying to cover it all up, including the head of the IRS, who lied to Congress about it, and the head of the tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, who managed to lie even in her public acknowledgment of impropriety.

It wasn’t a one-off. It wasn’t a president losing his temper with some steel executives. There was no enemies list, unless you consider half the country to be your enemies.

Let’s just list a few of the things wrong with those few paragraphs:

  • “The Benghazi scandal was and is shocking…” I’m not yet persuaded that “Benghazi” actually is a scandal, despite the efforts of people I respect, such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain, to portray it as such. Much less that it is widely accepted among others, outside of certain Republican circles. Much, much less that it is not only a scandal, but a shocking one. Yet she begins her column throwing it out there as something that doesn’t even need discussion, as an established fact on the way to what she really wants to talk about. It’s like she’s gotten into the habit of writing only for people on the right. She assumes all her readers think Benghazi is a shocking scandal, and she goes ahead and acknowledges that out of hand. It’s like there are no other kinds of readers out there looking at her column. And if she keeps writing like this, she’ll be right in that assumption.
  • Part of the reason is that it’s not their ox being gored, it’s those messy people out in America with their little patriotic groups.” Really? Tell me again which ox was gored. “Gore” means to deliver a serious, perhaps fatal, wound. Did any of these “patriotic little groups,” a characterization we could debate all day, lose their ability to do what they do? Were they indeed “gored”?
  • Richard Nixon is mentioned, followed by “But this scandal is different and distinctive.” As in, she implies, worse.

What Richard Nixon did with regard to the IRS was indeed an article of impeachment. Because of the abuses of power that he, Richard Nixon, carried out.

Excuse me, but I have yet to see the evidence that indicates, even remotely, that Barack Obama was involved in this mess over at the IRS. (Please give me a link if I’ve missed it.)

And this particular scandal has been proceeding how long? A month or so? (Actually, the first press reports were in March 2012.) I seem to recall that the Watergate scandal connected directly to the White House on Day One. Reporter Bob Woodward, then a nobody, was assigned to go cover the arraignment of some guys caught breaking into Democratic headquarters, and that day found that one of them worked in the White House.

Yeah, pretty different, all right.

Oh, and by the way, I should probably say for the benefit of Steven Davis and others who labor under the delusion that I’m a Democrat or something: I don’t say “Barack Obama isn’t Nixon” because I think Obama is so awesome and Nixon was pure evil.

If I’d been old enough to vote in 1968, I’d have voted for Nixon, without hesitation. For that matter, I was solidly for him in 1960, although you may discount that because I was only 7 years old. I would have voted for him in 1972, the first time I ever voted, if not for Watergate. I pulled the lever for McGovern after standing and debating with myself in the booth for about 10 minutes. I firmly believed that Nixon was the better president — in fact, I was convinced that McGovern would be a disaster. But I was also convinced that the Democrat had zero chance, so this seemed like a safe way to register my concerns about Watergate.

(I did the same thing, only with the parties reversed, in 1996. I respected Bob Dole more as a man than I did Bill Clinton. But Dole had run such a horrendous campaign that I doubted his ability to be a good president. I actually thought Clinton better suited to the job. But I had a lot of problems with Clinton by this time and, knowing that Dole had no chance of winning, I pulled the lever for him as a protest.)

Nixon was in a number of important ways a pretty good president, on the big things. Probably better than Obama in a number of ways (although I haven’t thought deeply about that, and it’s difficult to compare, since the challenges facing them are so different). But his abuse of power on stupid, petty things did him in. And I’ve seen no evidence so far Barack Obama has done anything of that kind.

So no — Obama’s not as bad as Nixon in this regard, much less worse. It’s not even close.

Sheheen releases tax returns, urges Haley to do likewise

Again, Vincent Sheheen is challenging Ms. Transparency to live up to the reputation that she seems to want to have:

Sheheen releases tax returns, calls for transparency from all SC leaders
Senator calls for leaders to “walk the walk” on transparency and ethics reform
Camden, SC – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his 2011 and 2012 tax returns. These returns join the ten years of tax returns that Sen. Sheheen released during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, and statements of income disclosure from his time in the Senate that have all been disclosed previously. Sen. Sheheen has led bipartisan efforts to include full income disclosure in ethics reform in the state legislature as part of his career-long fight to restructure and reform the inefficient and corrupt government in South Carolina.
“Without ethical leaders, we won’t have ethical government. I have chosen to release 12 years of tax returns because it’s not enough to say one thing and do another on ethics and leadership. We have to walk the walk,” said Sen. Sheheen. “I call on other leaders in our state to release their returns as well. Governor Haley especially should release her most recent tax returns, as well as the ten years prior that she refused to disclose during the last campaign. South Carolinians deserve full disclosure and transparency, not just more political rhetoric absent results.”
Sheheen for South Carolina will make copies of Sen. Sheheen’s 2011 and 2012 tax returns available to the media for review at 915 Lady Street in Columbia from Tuesday, May 28th at 1:00pm through Friday, May 31st at 6:00pm. Please contact press@sheheenforsouthcarolina.com to set up a time.
###

I just had one question for the Sheheen campaign, though — why not just put it all online, or otherwise make the returns available electronically? As a PDF, or whatever. Seems like that would make the point more… pointedly.

Anyway, The State has gone ahead and looked at them, and reported:

COLUMBIA — S.C. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen made $535,000 in 2011 and 2012, according to federal and state income tax filings released Tuesday.

Sheheen, a state senator from Kershaw County, earned almost all of his income from his Camden law practice.

He paid $131,360 in taxes and donated $21,580 to charity over the past two tax years.

The 42-year-old father of three made $310,273 in 2011 with an taxable income of $282,258. He earned $224,920 last year with a taxable income of $198,218…

The State‘s Andy Shain also reports:

Gov. Nikki Haley will release her returns for 2012 next week, her office said…

The truth about SC: Taxes are low and getting lower, and government is not ‘growing’

Cindi Scoppe struck another blow today in the lonely fight to base public policy in South Carolina on facts. It’s not only a lonely, but a losing battle, since the people who are driving things in the State House have contempt for facts, preferring to “govern” on the basis of extremist ideology, which holds that facts are bunk.

Basically, she was answering this kind of nonsense:

Consider this analysis from an Upstate anti-government activist, speaking recently to The Greenville News: “Every year our state budget continues to go up, up, up, far exceeding our growth. So we’re getting more government, we’re getting higher taxes.

“They tell us, ‘We cut taxes.’ That’s nonsense. How can you increase spending and cut taxes and yet you claim that we also are not running a deficit? The numbers don’t add up.”

That certainly sounds like a sensible analysis. And there are circumstances under which it could be accurate. If, say, our population were remaining stagnant, or declining. Or if people’s income or purchases remained flat, or declined. But of course none of that is happening.

What’s happening isn’t that complicated. It just isn’t necessarily intuitive…

And what is happening is that tax rates have been lowered over and over for the past two decades. What is also happening is that, while the total amount of state funds spent on government is greater because of our skyrocketing population growth, the amount spent per capita is less and less:

South Carolina’s tax collections are the lowest in the nation, at $1,476.50 per capita; they dropped 18 percent from 2001 to 2011 — more than they did in 48 states. Our combined state and local tax burden per capita was less than all but one state, at $2,742. Our 2012 Tax Freedom Day — the date when we’ve earned enough money to pay all of our federal, state and local taxes for the year — was earlier than all but three states, at April 3.

This is simply not a state in which we’re “getting higher taxes.”

Ah, but our government is growing, right? Well, if by “growing government,” you mean that the total amount spent on state government each year is generally more than it was the previous year, then yes, it’s growing. With the exception of two years during the recession, state general fund expenditures (the money over which the Legislature has the most control) are growing — although this year’s $6.1 billion general fund budget is still down from the $6.7 billion in 2008-09, just before the recession hit.

But remember: While the general fund grew by 12 percent over the past decade, our state’s population grew by 15 percent. That means the Legislature appropriated less general fund money per resident, even without considering inflation, in 2012 than in 2002…

Ah, but what about all those “other funds,” from the feds and fees? Hasn’t that increased the size of government? Consider:

What’s a little surprising is that even with all that federal and other money, the total number of state employees is actually down, from 63,000 in 2002 to 56,000 in 2012. In fact, the total number of state employees has decreased over just about any period you look at during the past two decades, except last year, when it rose slightly from 2011, but remained well below the 2010 level.

So if by “growing government” you mean government is increasing the number of people on the payroll, it’s not.

If you mean government is providing more services, it’s also not. Our state is providing services to more people — Medicaid and food stamps, both funded primarily by the federal government, are prime examples — but it’s not increasing the services to each person…

Actually, you should just go read the whole thing.