- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Dec. 16

The Greenville News on raising the state gas tax:

It has been 28 years since South Carolina last raised its 16.75-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. Last week, a Winthrop University poll showed 61 percent of state Republicans favor an increase in the gas tax if the money goes to repair roads and infrastructure.

It looks like the time may be right for the state Legislature to finally approve a gasoline tax increase to help overcome a massive deficit in state highway funding. And it should do so in strong enough numbers to overcome a promised veto from Gov. Nikki Haley.

Some put the funding deficit at $1.5 billion a year. Although it’s likely less than that, the deficit surely exceeds $750 million a year.

The House has taken the first step to bridging that gap, last year passing a bill that would raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and raise the sales tax cap on vehicles to $500 from $300. A Senate bill that was discussed last year would go a step further, raising gasoline taxes by 12 cents without a corresponding income tax cut.

A gasoline tax increase on its own will not completely bridge the road-funding deficit. But a tax increase does need to be a component of a comprehensive roads bill. Those in the Legislature who support an increase need to make the case to their colleagues. And all South Carolinians who support such a step need to reach out to their representatives and tell them it’s more than OK to raise the tax, it’s the right thing to do.

The House bill only would generate roughly half of what’s needed on an annual basis to get the majority of the state’s roads in good condition, according to a recent report in The Greenville News. The Senate proposal from last year goes much further, and would provide about $800 million annually.

The main obstacle to passing a gas tax, and even perhaps a comprehensive road funding bill, ironically could be a $1.2 billion state revenue surplus. There will undoubtedly be a strong push by some lawmakers to use at least a portion of that money to meet infrastructure needs this year and kick the comprehensive bill down the road once more.

Republican Sen. Tom Corbin, for instance, said at a recent Upstate Chamber of Commerce meeting he opposes a gas tax and the road funding money should come out of that surplus. His constituents, he said, “want to see the waste in government cut first and the money prioritized.”

Corbin is right on one point: South Carolina needs to be careful not to waste the relatively meager amount of funding it sends to its highway system, and money could always be spent more wisely. But the state’s gasoline tax is among the lowest in the nation, and the majority of its roads are in poor condition.

The state’s infrastructure needs are serious enough that a portion of that $1.2 billion should indeed go to road funding. But that should not be done instead of a comprehensive bill, but rather in addition to one.

The state’s roads are important to the economic well-being of South Carolina and to the quality of life state residents enjoy. But if roads are not brought into better condition, employers will take notice, and drivers will be less safe. In fact, some business leaders have said they might find it more attractive to move out of state if South Carolina does not address its infrastructure needs.

This is the year for South Carolina to finally pass a comprehensive road funding plan that increases available revenue. The Senate needs to follow up on the House’s work and pass this meaningful reform without stripping away one of the most needed components.

Online:

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/

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Dec. 13

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg on the Confederate flag:

The Confederate flag, that highly divisive South Carolina relic, is in the news again.

Just five months after the flag came down from its perch on the Statehouse grounds, it’s back in the headlines, this time not over location but finances. The S.C. Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia hired a consultant who estimated it would cost $5.3 million to expand the museum to accommodate the flag.

A letter to the editor in the Herald-Journal last week put the estimate in perspective quite concisely: “So the South Carolina legislative branch does not have money to fix the roads, but it may vote on $5 million to build a room for the Confederate flag? Really?”

It’s an excellent point.

In a state budget of more than $7 billion, $5.3 million may seem like a pittance - but it shouldn’t if you consider that South Carolina’s taxpayers, including many who consider the symbol offensive, would pay the tab. And it shouldn’t if you consider the state’s many pressing needs, which should be higher priorities.

If the General Assembly were to approve this expenditure, this would be $5.3 million that couldn’t go toward, for example, fixing our dilapidated infrastructure. The state Department of Transportation estimates that repairing our roads and bridges will cost $40 billion over the next 25 years.

It would be $5.3 million that couldn’t go toward addressing education - and a state Supreme Court mandate to remedy the plight of South Carolina’s rural schools, including its aptly named “Corridor of Shame.”

It would be $5.3 million that couldn’t go toward the devastating damage caused in much of the state by recent flooding.

The list goes on. The state has countless needs that currently trump such an expense for a Confederate flag display.

Also, the museum is already state-supported. According to The State newspaper, it has an annual budget of $1.2 million, two-thirds of which is paid by the state. And a Senate subcommittee report stated that each year the museum receives about 22,000 visitors and brings in only $60,000 from ticket and gift shop sales.

The Relic Room’s director, Allen Roberson, said he believes the actual cost will be lower than the consultant’s $5.3 million estimate, although he offered no figure. But with such government-related projects, cost overruns tend to be the norm.

Make no mistake, the Confederate flag does hold a significant place in South Carolina history, for better or worse. There are those who argue that it is an enduring symbol of brave Civil War ancestors who fought and often died valiantly for the South, while others see it as a reminder of the violent, racist era of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

Either way, the museum is an appropriate venue for its display. But at what price? Not $5.3 million. Not when the state has so many genuine needs.

Online:

http://www.goupstate.com/

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Dec. 12

The Post and Courier on Charleston African-American Museum:

The conversation about race relations changed after nine African Americans were shot to death by a white man at Mother Emanuel AME Church. It became more urgent, and it included people who hadn’t spoken up before.

It also brought into clarity one key reason it is important to build the International African American Museum in Charleston: Educating people about the African-American story is vital to stopping racial bigotry.

Of course people are educated in many ways - schools and colleges, work settings and television. Probably one of the most defining ways is also one of the most difficult to change: The attitudes of family and friends.

Wednesday night, some of the country’s best recognized voices on the issue of race - documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who also makes documentaries - agreed that Mayor Joe Riley’s lofty vision for the African-American Museum is a concrete way to make a difference. The two men were featured, along with Mr. Riley, in a program called “American Fault Line” to raise money for the museum and to discuss race, history and healing. It is telling, and encouraging, that the Gaillard Center performance hall was filled.

This was not the first, nor will it be the last, attempt here to have serious, meaningful dialogue about race since the Emanuel horror. All involved seem to yearn for more than talk, but most fumble when it comes to knowing what substantive actions can be taken to address the thorny issues of racism and inequality.

Not everyone can be a Henry Louis Gates or a Ken Burns whose work opens the eyes of millions of people.

But both men said that supporting the African-American museum is a way to do something worthwhile to educate people who live in or visit Charleston.

Dr. Gates is on the advisory board for the $3.5 million Pinckney Fund, named for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who died in the Emanuel shooting. The fund will provide scholarships to low-income students, particularly the children and grandchildren of Emanuel shooting victims.

And on the flip side of college education, Dr. Gates said African-American history must be regarded as part of the American story and curricula should reflect that.

Mr. Burns said that Charleston is in a special position to address race relations because of the Emanuel shooting. Indeed, it was after he learned about the shooting that he called Mayor Riley and asked how he could help.

Another reason is that 44 percent of the slaves who were imported to America came through Charleston. They were taken off board near the site of the planned African-American Museum. Mr. Burns compared its significance to African-Americans as akin to Ellis Island’s significance to immigrants to New York. He also offered to help design the educational components of the museum.

Mayor Riley wrapped up the discussion by saying that the $75 million African-American museum is “desperately needed because it has been missing.”

“We can’t understand who we are as a people if we don’t understand the experience of African-Americans who were brought here against their will,” Mayor Riley said.

The museum’s aim would be to teach that information - beginning with children.

Throughout the Charleston area, and far beyond, people want to do something to ensure against more tragedies born out of racism. And they want their communities and their country to offer fair and equal opportunities for all.

Supporting the International African-American Museum is an important way to help.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com/

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