- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Nov. 25

The Post and Courier of Charleston on where people spend more on lottery tickets and the availability of lottery money for higher education:

A study being done by the S.C. Commission on Minority Affairs is likely to confirm what is already known or suspected - those who spend the most on lottery tickets are the least able to afford them, and that most lottery scholarships are awarded in urban population centers rather than in poor rural areas where per capita lottery spending is the highest.

Benjamin Washington Jr., the commission’s program manager for research, told The Post and Courier’s Prentiss Findlay that part of the focus will be on the correlation between counties where people spend more of their income on lottery tickets and the availability of lottery money for higher education.

“I’m thinking about the I-95 corridor in particular,” Mr. Washington said, referring to the 36 mostly poor school districts along the interstate sometimes called the “Corridor of Shame,” after a documentary of that title decried the poor state of public education there.

A previous study showed that residents in poorer counties tended to spend the most on lottery tickets and get less back in scholarships.

In Allendale County, where the state has taken control of the school district in an effort to improve educational outcomes, lottery spending per capita was about $819 per year and 41 percent of residents live in poverty. But only $8.1 million in lottery scholarships were awarded.

Similarly, in Bamberg County, where 32 percent of residents live in poverty, per capita spending on the lottery was about $1,000 per year. But just $8.8 million in scholarships were awarded there.

By contrast, Richland County residents spent an average of $580 on lottery tickets and received $195 million in scholarship funds. The numbers in Charleston County were about the same - $585 in per capita lottery spending and $173 million in scholarships.

In Greenville County, per capita spending on the lottery was just $375 on average, but $282.7 million in scholarships were awarded there.

Hopefully, the commission’s study will help change attitudes about buying lottery tickets and perhaps inspire changes in how lottery scholarships are awarded.

With a recent change in what constitutes a passing grade - 60 instead of 70 - about 25,500 more high school students are expected to become eligible for merit-based lottery scholarships over the next four years. The Commission on Higher Education has warned that there won’t be adequate lottery funds to pay for the increase, and has recommended raising scholarship standards accordingly.

Lotteries are tantamount to a tax on the poor. And in South Carolina, it appears to be doubly so, with the state’s poorest citizens essentially subsidizing scholarships for students in higher-income areas.

Online: http://www.postandcourier.com/

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Nov. 24

The Island Packet of Hilton Head Island on a planned residential and commercial development:

East Argent is a regional concern.

The giant residential and commercial development planned for Hardeeville has the potential to bring in more than 20,000 new residents to the Sun City Hilton Head area.

Plans for the project, which will be overseen by Atlanta-based developer Argent Land Holdings LLC, include the construction of 9,500 homes and apartments, as well as 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space on a roughly 7,300-acre plot west of Argent Boulevard and north of U.S. 278.

To measure how this could change the community, think of Sun City itself. With construction starting in 1995, it has brought 15,000 residents to 5,000 acres, and sparked extensive development throughout southern Beaufort County and now Jasper County.

Regional input is needed because the quality of life and well-being of people throughout the region are at stake.

What happens at East Argent also is important to Bluffton, Beaufort County, Jasper County, Ridgeland and Hilton Head Island. They need to speak up now with suggestions and concerns.

Hardeeville quietly released this bombshell in a news release. The town’s development agreement on the tract could be finalized next month.

Like the public, we do not know enough about it.

But we know a lot of boxes that need to be checked.

Show the public how the S.C. Department of Education, and Beaufort and Jasper counties, plan to avoid gridlock or lessen traffic congestion caused by the East Argent development.

Show the public the plan for future roads, schools, parks, open space, flood control, and public safety providers.

Show the public more than where all that infrastructure will be located. Show who is going to pay for it, when, and where the money will come from. Will it be property taxes, sales taxes, bond referendums, impact fees, property-transfer fees, or what?

Show the public all the details of a development agreement that was all but complete when the development was first announced.

Show how the development agreement could be renegotiated as needs change in coming years.

Show what environmental-protection agencies have to say.

Certainly, Hardeeville has been working on this.

But, unlike the game-changing development of Sun City, this one may not be done by a single developer with a well-polished plan for producing large “cities” with their own road system, recreation complex, auditorium and security.

Hardeeville has before it an opportunity. It could result in a large tract being planned better than if it were developed in smaller pieces.

Hardeeville also has before it a great burden to see that the quality of life in an already-stressed area, with much more development already approved, is not ruined. It should seek input from all the other governments representing people with skin in the game.

Online: http://www.islandpacket.com/

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Nov. 26

The Times & Democrat of Orangeburg on Gov. Henry McMaster ordering an investigation of the South Carolina Conservation Bank:

Earlier this year, Gov. Henry McMaster used his veto power to reject the General Assembly’s action to take away funding for the South Carolina Conservation Bank and sunset the entity created in 2002 as an ongoing source to acquire real estate in the interest of preservation.

Now McMaster has ordered an investigation of the conservation bank, questioning how it operates and spends money.

That comes on the heels of a Legislative Audit Council report earlier this year questioning how the bank spent money. The audit said the bank sometimes paid wealthy landowners to avoid developing their property without guaranteeing public access to the land.

The audit also said some landowners were paid when property was not in danger of development.

Conservation bank officials have disputed the criticism in the report but damage has been done. As much as its mission is important, the future of the conservation bank is in doubt.

But conservation bank successes should not be ignored.

It has helped protect nearly 300,000 acres around South Carolina by actions including guarding green space surrounding Angel Oak on Johns Island, providing funds for the purchase of Morris Island, preserving Camden’s Revolutionary War battleground and securing 8,700 acres along eight miles of the Santee River. The list of worthy projects is long, including protection of waterfowl habitats and public hunting areas in the Midlands.

In reality, the conservation bank is the only statewide source of funding available for willing landowners and their land trust partners to conserve significant natural resource lands, wetlands, historic and archaeological sites.

It is funded by a fraction of the S.C. documentary stamp tax (state deed recording fee). Of every $1.35 collected by the state, 25 cents is credited to the Conservation Bank Trust Fund. No tax dollars are used for funding.

The conservation bank provides the opportunity to leverage private and federal investments for the public benefit. But it must be reauthorized every five years to continue its work. The charter was extended by five years in 2012, meaning the Legislature had to act by 2017 to continue its existence.

The conservation bank’s successes have been achieved despite a modest allocation of money as it has obtained support from private and public sources to purchase land and to obtain permanent conservation easements for forests and farmland.

The program is completely voluntary: Land trust organizations, state agencies and local governments can apply for grants to acquire either title to, or a conservation easement on, properties with conservation and/or cultural/historic significance. Then it’s up to the landowners to decide whether to accept the grants and protect their properties. They are under no obligation to do so.

McMaster should not give up on the conservation bank. In his veto message, he urged the Legislature not only to sustain his veto but to set about a “reasoned debate about the Bank’s future and mission.”

Let the investigation and the debate move forward. And then follow the approach the governor has advocated: Fix the problems but do not allow an important tool for land preservation in South Carolina to fade into history.

Online: http://thetandd.com/

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