Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Island Packet of Hilton Head Island on the state gas tax:
As the South Carolina legislature reconvenes, watch your wallets.
Top on many agendas will be raising the state gas tax. It sounds logical, but it’s a bad idea. It’s the easy way out to protect the good-old-boy system that has South Carolina’s roads riddled with potholes while new roads to nowhere are built for old-guard legislators.
First, the so-called need for $1.5 billion a year for road construction needs to be proven. The state says it needs that much every year for the next 29 years. Someone needs to shine a bright light on those “needs.” It is an unbelievable sum.
Second, measure existing revenue against true infrastructure needs, including flood repair. State Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort points out that the state has already been increasing roads funding and has a capacity to do more if that is its top priority — without a gas tax increase, or certainly with a more modest increase.
But then comes the hardest and most important part: dismantling the current, politically charged way of making roads decisions.
Get rid of the State Infrastructure Bank that runs alongside the SCDOT Commission doing its own thing under its own rules, which favor entrenched lawmakers.
If addressing needs is truly the goal, this dysfunctional way of making roads decisions must cease.
And legislators should avoid the gimmicky concept floated last year by Gov. Nikki Haley. She said that with a gas-tax increase must come an income-tax decrease. This would help the rich and hurt the poor. And the sharp decrease in general-fund revenue would cripple all the educational, social services, criminal justice and health care services of the state.
Davis filibustered for three weeks at the end of last year’s legislative session to keep the door open for transportation reform. We thank him and hope he will stick to his well-reasoned stand to address the true roads problem. The problem is governance, not money.
The Aiken Standard on why public education should be a key priority for the General Assembly:
South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas said at the 2016 Legislative Workshop for the Media recently that South Carolina students are not receiving a 21st century education.
That statement is very true and will demand legislative action to remedy the long-standing disparity in funding between rich and poor districts around the Palmetto State.
Senate and House representatives met with members of the media Jan. 7, highlighting the top priorities that will likely generate much discussion in the General Assembly this session. Those topics included infrastructure, ethics, public information requests and education.
Lucas, a Darlington Republican, was one of several legislators who tackled the “harsh reality” that Palmetto State education, particularly in rural areas, has been suffering for years and may impact the state’s ability to produce an educated workforce in the future.
Issues in the educational system range from lack of technological resources to an inability to recruit and retain quality teachers in rural areas, said S.C. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
Fellow Orangeburg Democrat, S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, took it a step further and generated a lengthy discussion on the Abbeville lawsuit decision - one made by the South Carolina Supreme Court more than a year ago that stated students in high minority, impoverished rural school districts had not been receiving a “minimally adequate education.”
The high court initially gave lawmakers a February deadline to present a solution after the ruling on the 22-year-old case. Though other panel members said they are confident some changes will be made, Cobb-Hunter said the can has been kicked down the road for too long.
“We can study and study and study until we can’t study anymore,” she said. “At what point do we stop studying problems and issues, and actually do something?”
These legislators should be praised for recognizing the importance of finding solutions. As the legislative session gets underway this month, let’s just hope that recognition gets us somewhere as a state.
The Index-Journal of Greenwood on what they expect from the upcoming legislative session:
If attending this year’s legislative workshop in Columbia was supposed to result in the media assuring South Carolinians’ that the 2016 legislative session would somehow be vastly different and far better than 2015, then it failed.
For some years now, media are invited to the nearly all-day workshop that precedes the kickoff of the new session. Sponsored by the South Carolina Press Association, the workshop is an opportunity for state House and Senate members to weigh in on the year ahead, as well as answer media questions.
Of no surprise, the agenda had lawmakers delve into the topics of infrastructure and education. Infrastructure has been a familiar topic for several years now as lawmakers, business leaders and the public alike have been wringing their hands over the condition of our state’s roads, highways and bridges. That problem has since been compounded by the weather that brought severe flooding to the state, resulting in even more damage to the arteries that connect the state and play a major role in keeping the state’s commerce alive.
Education — an annual favorite at the workshops — had as its focal point the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the funding lawsuit led by the Abbeville County School District v. South Carolina. After 20-some years, the high court issued its ruling, agreeing that the state was not providing children a constitutionally promised “minimally adequate” education. The court directed lawmakers and school administrators alike to put their heads together and find a solution.
Perhaps buoyed by lingering effects from New Year’s celebrations or how well lawmakers came together to bring the Confederate battle flag down following the Emanuel Nine massacre, a number of lawmakers on the morning and afternoon panels expressed a belief that this would be a year in which significant issues would be addressed and meaningful work would be accomplished. That remains to be seen, and is at even greater risk now that one of the most influential behind-the-scenes workers, Sen. Billy O’Dell of Ware Shoals, has died.
Long before the thousand-year storm soaked the Palmetto State, lawmakers have been wrangling over paying to maintain existing roads and bridges. Mind you, that’s just existing infrastructure, not any new road projects, and the issue has had little more than lip service and a handful of surplus dollars tossed its way.
You can expect more fighting to take place after the handshakes and platitudes are finished with the launch of the new session this morning. To raise the gas tax or not — that is the question. Or, at least, a question. Some lawmakers are willing to hike the gas tax, but say it must be paired with a reduction in the state’s income tax. Apples to apples or apples and oranges? They agree to disagree. And lawmakers will again bicker over the topic of what should be done with the state highway commission, how dollars are directed by powerful lawmakers and whether the governor should have the discretion to appoint the state Department of Transportation director for stronger accountability purposes. No quick fix will come of that, as you can imagine.
On education funding, some lawmakers still feel the sting of what they viewed as an overreaching judicial arm of government when the court issued a deadline to right the inequitable funding problem. But more than that, expect much consternation and digging in of heels when lawmakers roll out one prong of a possible fix: school consolidation. Yes, lawmakers are again saying smaller rural districts might well have to be absorbed into existing larger districts to fix the funding issue. An unpleasant topic, but one that absolutely must be on the table.
Oh, and ethics reform? Improvements to access to public records and documents? Wait and see. Wait and see.
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