- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


May 26

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on shirking of state law aches county budget:

For too long, the General Assembly has been passing the buck. The latest proposed budget for Aiken County makes that abundantly evident.

Although a number of factors have some prompted County administration to propose a millage rate increase, this is, in large part, tied to the lack of support from state lawmakers.

For decades, the state has obligated itself toward giving additional dollars to counties and municipalities through a measure known as the local government fund. The fund was largely viewed as a way to provide local relief for mandates created by the state.

It’s been an important source of revenue around the state, including in Aiken County, even with the cuts it has seen in recent years. In 1991, lawmakers instituted a law requiring 4.5 percent of the general fund revenue - of the completed fiscal year - to be appropriated into the fund for cities and counties.

However, the law was suspended in 2008 to deal with budget shortfalls resulting from the recession. Now, as the state and country appear to be slowly moving out of the recession, the legislature continues to not live up to what state law originally required.

The most sensible approach would be putting together a formula that ebbed and flowed with the strength of the state’s general fund. In good years, local governments would have more to spend just as the state years. In bad years, less so. Instead, the state continues to handicap local governments by not sticking to the formula and undermining city and county councils.

The General Assembly has tried to make adjustments to the fund this year, although unsuccessfully. Two bills focused on the issue with one more sensible than the other. A bill sponsored by S.C. Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston - H.3374 - would all but freeze the local government fund if passed. This misguided approach would continue to put burdens on local governments by keeping mandates imposed by the state in place without the necessary dollars to fulfill the requirements, Merrill’s bill would increase the local government fund by 2 percent, but only in years when the state general fund is projected to increase by at least 4 percent - and that’s absent some kind of an extraordinary appropriation by the legislature. Each member of the Aiken County delegation supported this measure, but it looks unlikely to be signed into law.

Another bill, sponsored by Eddie Southard, R-Berkeley, would take the more sensible approach and would phase in full funding for local governments over a three-year-period, but it hasn’t moved forward either. The fund was envisioned as a way to offset tax relief and some of the state’s functions that are performed at the county level. In the past few years, as the legislature has suspended the fund, the dollars coming down from the state have been unpredictable.

This uncertainty - combined with problems at Langley Dam and costs incurred by last year’s winter storm - have undoubtedly put pressure on the County’s budget.

These pressures should create a clear impetus for state lawmakers to push for more sensible, straightforward funding in the future.




May 27

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on passing on bond bill:

Add South Carolina National Guard armories to the list of neglected and underfunded state assets - a list that includes colleges as well as much-discussed roads and bridges.

The Legislature has been spending lots of time and energy trying to devise a plan to pay for the road maintenance that has been neglected for years. But discussion about repairing armories and vital college building projects has all but faded away.

The situation is all the more ironic because, while fixing the extensive damage to roads and bridges is financially daunting, there is an easy solution to meeting the needs of colleges, technical education and armories - a bond bill.

The hang-up is a threatened veto by Gov. Nikki Haley. She likens bonds to running up credit card debt. But that’s not a realistic comparison. Bonds are sound financial tools to help governments tend to large building projects that they would otherwise be unable to accomplish.

And at this time, interest rates remain low, and thus attractive, and other S.C. bonds are expiring. That means the $236 million bond bill that is languishing in the Legislature would not increase taxes.

South Carolinians - including lawmakers and the governor - should be embarrassed to ask members of the National Guard to train in armories that have leaky roofs, inadequate heating and air conditioning, crumbling surfaces and poor lighting. Furthermore, those armories are where the Guard stores equipment that ought to be better protected.

The slighting of our state’s citizen soldiers is particularly galling considering the heavy burdens that they have carried in extended American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bond bill would provide money, which would be matched by federal funds, for the armories’ long overdue repairs.

And on a larger scale, it would help establish an aeronautical training center at Trident Technical College. Boeing has ramped up the need for workers trained in that field. And ancillary industries that might come to the area because of Boeing would also need employees.

The Medical University of South Carolina would receive financial assistance toward building a new women’s and children’s hospital that would serve people from across the state and bolster its increasing prominence nationally.

College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell, who fully understands bond bills, having served in the state Senate for more than 30 years, says they are a wise way to address pressing needs.

And any homeowner knows that deferring maintenance only results in greater needs that cost more to fix.

Similarly, failing to keep up with building needs diminishes colleges’ ability to recruit students and provide first-rate instruction.

Again, the cost of building is only going to rise. Indeed, Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently said the central bank is likely to increase interest rates this year.

The Fed has repeatedly failed to follow through on similar signals. But whether rates rise of not, the General Assembly has an opportunity to accomplish a lot without a lot of pain - except that inflicted by Gov. Haley’s stance.

It’s worth a concerted effort to get the bond bill passed before the looming end of the legislative session.




May 26

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on York County pastors’ message:

Only a small group of York County’s Christian pastors signed a letter last week to encourage their brethren to live in harmony with Muslims in the community. But we suspect the sentiments of the letter were shared by a large number of people of all faiths.

The letter is a response to concerns expressed by residents of Holy Islamville, a Muslim community in York County that has existed here for nearly three decades. Members of the local group say they fear for their safety after hearing about a failed plot to kill Muslims who live in a religious community in New York.

The FBI discovered the plan and arrested Robert Doggart, a failed congressional candidate from Tennessee, who pleaded guilty this month to hatching the plot. Doggart testified, according to court documents, that he had tried to recruit people from South Carolina to help him, and he had traveled to the state as recently as March.

We can understand why that might alarm the residents of Holy Islamville.

The letter signed by two dozen local pastors was designed to both reassure those residents and express opposition to any “acts of violence or threats of violence against anyone due to their religious affiliation.”

In addition to the pastors, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant recently promised residents of Holy Islamville that his office will not tolerate any threats or acts of violence against them.

“The people who live at Islamville, and the people who gather at Islamville, they are citizens of America, this state and York County, and we will do everything we can to protect them as we would for any other resident of York County,” Bryant said last week.

We hope these messages resonate with all York County residents. As the pastors’ letter noted, discrimination or violence against people because of their religious affiliation is antithetical to the tenets of Christianity - as well as all other mainstream religions.

Those like Doggart, who would threaten the lives of people living in American Muslim communities, have stooped to the same level of immorality as members of Islamic State, who have committed any number of atrocities in the name of religion. By contrast, the best way to encourage moderation and peaceful coexistence among people of all faiths is to disavow violence and work to ensure the safety of everyone from threats by religious fanatics.

While only a relatively small number of pastors signed the letter last week, religious leaders throughout the county have other means and other opportunities to share the same message with members of their faith groups. And even those who don’t align themselves with any particular faith also can embrace the idea that tolerance, mutual understanding and goodwill help foster a healthier community.

Those who express the desire to live together peaceably are not naive. All we have to do is read the headlines to know that religious strife and intolerance have spawned horrific violence, destruction and cruelty around the globe.

The message of the local pastors was grounded in a faith whose foundation is peace and harmony. The message of the Islamic State and other extremists is a gross distortion of the religion to which they claim to adhere.

But despite the horrors occurring in the Middle East and the threats of domestic violence from those such as Doggart, the United States is fortunate - perhaps uniquely so - in being able to successfully sustain a religiously diverse society and to assimilate people of all faiths as part of its cultural norm. As Sheriff Bryant said, we’re all Americans.

That’s an idea worth spreading - and protecting at all costs.



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