Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Aiken Standard on a road bill:
South Carolina lawmakers patted each other on the back following passage of S. 1258, a Senate road funding bill that legislators say will increase funding by more than $4 billion in the next 10 years.
“Members of the House understand that the people of South Carolina expect their Legislature to pass a roads bill this year,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said in a news release.
“Although more effort must be made next session to find a long-term funding stream, this bill is a starting point that allows for adequate repair of deficient roads and bridges without raiding our state’s General Fund,” the release said.
But it’s also not entirely accurate to suggest S. 1258 won’t potentially impact the general fund and the agencies that would be dependent on it.
S. 1258, for example, diverts $84.2 million in S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles fee revenue to the State Highway Fund. The bill in its current form also creates a detour from the state’s school building fund, ferrying nearly $61 million to the State Highway Fund.
The bill includes a variety of other funding detours designed to generate billions of dollars.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who crafted the House companion bill, said the S.C. DMV and school building funds would be replenished with general fund appropriations.
“The DMV will not be shortchanged as a result of this,” Simrill said, noting the school building fund will be similarly unaffected.
That appears to be the case in this year’s budget, but if there’s one certainty to the budgeting process, it’s that the general fund is a floating target and isn’t immune to future funding cuts or transfers.
The Great Recession of 2008 made it painfully obvious that no public service is immune from budget cuts during times of economic downturn. Even in good times, there’s no guarantee funding will remain in place over the long term.
State lawmakers assert the fund transfers are integral components to highway legislation because it gives government more flexibility in bonding road projects. Simrill said it’s easier to leverage bonds against guaranteed revenue sources, such as DMV fees, than it is against general fund revenue.
“It’s a revenue bond and not a general obligation bond,” he said.
Simrill said that’s significant because revenue bonds can be issued more quickly and in smaller amounts than general obligation bonds, thereby accelerating road projects by borrowing in smaller, more frequent increments.
The Rock Hill lawmaker likened the process to the home mortgage lending process. It would be like paying for a house in phases instead of all at once, like with a conventional mortgage, he said.
That is a creative way of looking at it. And it’s hard to deny the logic behind securing more frequent, short-term loans.
Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, tells us S. 1258 will generate $32 million for road resurfacing projects in Aiken County, $14 million for Edgefield County and $15 million for Barnwell County.
Taylor said the bill would result in an additional $52 million to resurface I-20 from Exit 5 to the Georgia state line. If funding comes to fruition, it’s hard to reject that level of support.
That, however, still doesn’t fully allay our concerns about shifting DMV and school building revenues to roads and replacing fee revenue with general fund revenue. General fund revenues almost always fluctuate; seldom are they etched in stone.
With travel reaching all-time highs, South Carolina needs a better, more dependable way to fund road repair and construction. While the current plan likely headed to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk may generate short-term revenue, it’s sustainability over the long-term still remains doubtful.
The Sun News on flood relief:
Black River United Way changed its focus to consolidate its funding and target the specific goals of improving reading levels of kindergarten through second grade children, strengthen the work force of Georgetown and Williamsburg counties and rebuild from the horrific flooding of October 2015.
“The United Way is not generally known as a disaster relief agency like the Red Cross and Salvation Army,” says Lucy S. Woodhouse, Black River’s executive officer. However, United Way organizations “are designed to respond to the needs of a community” and clearly flood recovery will be a multiple year effort in the two counties.
Black River has surpassed its $400,000 campaign goal for 2015-16 and also raised over $300,000 for flood recovery efforts. Black River has made grants to Catholic Charities, All Hands Volunteers, Mennonite Disaster Services and the Jerusalem Center in Andrews. A Mennonite recovery team, through this month, completed 45 homes. “A pretty awesome group,” Woodhouse says of the team.
In surpassing its campaign goal, Woodhouse credits “donors from workplace campaigns, individuals and (United Way) board of directors. Key workplace campaigns include Santee Cooper Winyah Generating Station, International Paper, Publix, Georgetown city, county and school district employees, along with South State, TD Bank and Georgetown Kraft Credit Union.
The focus on K-2 reading resulted from nonprofit and school district data showing “that the majority of area kindergarteners through 2nd graders were not reading at expected grade levels, setting them up to be four times more likely to drop out of school.” Woodhouse says $100,000 of the raised money will be invested in the reading effort, along with “a leveraged additional $500,000 from nonprofit, government and district funding sources.”
Black River has applied for an Americorps grant “that will enable us to work with 180 children at risk.” Donna Anderson, Americorps grant coordinator, says Black River will be a sub-grantee through the United Way Association of South Carolina. The grant will place a total of 30 Americorps members in five elementary schools in both counties. Five would be full-time in the program, possibly retirees; five more would be part-time upper-graduate college students and 20 high school seniors.
The Science And Inquiry Learning (SAIL) program was a pilot project for two years. Yolanda McCray, director of community impact for Black River, says SAIL will be in five schools, three in Georgetown County, two in Williamsburg, and three nonprofits, Teach My People, The Village Group and MK Inc.
The work force training focus involves dozens of partners, including the two school districts and Horry Georgetown Technical College, Georgetown County Economic Development, Georgetown Jobs Connection, International Paper, Helping Hands of Georgetown and Mercom of Pawleys Island. The partners are working to target the entities that will receive grants, Woodhouse says.
The United Way also will repeat its Day of Caring mini-grants, for training and making better use of the volunteers, who are so important to all nonprofits. In 2015, Black River made 26 mini-grants of up to $350 and that will be repeated in September, along with a second annual volunteer fair scheduled for Sept. 7.
The Post and Courier on traffic ticket quotas:
Speed limits and other laws of the road are intended to make them safer and to make traffic flow more smoothly.
They also make money for the municipalities and police agencies that enforce them.
Nobody would argue against giving motorists incentives to be safe and efficient drivers. And it makes sense for traffic fines to help pay for the cost of law enforcement.
But some departments cross the line by giving officers a quota of tickets to issue. Quotas can encourage them to make stops that aren’t necessary. Those stops can reflect poorly on law enforcement and erode the public’s confidence that officers are there to keep them safe.
The S.C. House of Representatives in April passed a bill authored by Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, that would ban law enforcement agencies from setting such quotas. The vote was 99-0.
The Senate should do the right thing and follow suit when it takes up the bill this week.
Events in North Charleston demonstrate why. Most notably, the defense team for police officer Michael Slager said he was trying to meet his quota - three traffic stops each shift - when he pulled Walter Scott for a brake light violation in April of 2015. Mr. Scott allegedly struggled with the officer and tried to run away. Mr. Slager shot and killed him, and now faces murder charges.
More generally, the department has been accused of racial profiling in the traffic stops they make. The philosophy has been that these stops for small traffic violations deter people from moving on to serious crimes.
But some disagree, and the city is now trying to assure its residents that its police are fair and their tactics are helpful.
Officials still need to work out how police departments would be penalized for violating the proposed law.
Wisely, the bill does provide protection for officers or others who blow the whistle when a department implements a quota. They should also get protection if they report unofficial quotas that, while not included in any rule book, put officers under the same pressure.
We have laws for reasons. Clearly law enforcement’s job is to see that people abide by the laws. So there is nothing wrong with issuing a ticket for someone going 65 in a 55 mph zone. Or for someone driving with only one functioning headlight.
There also is nothing wrong with punishing those offenders with fines - or with using money from those fines on police force needs.
But South Carolina doesn’t need - and shouldn’t allow - law enforcement agencies to dictate ahead of time how many citations its officers must hand out.
Better, police throughout the state should be striving to keep people safe and earning their trust.
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