- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


Sept. 4

The Post and Courier of Charleston on pension reform:

The massive public bailout of the state’s pension system earlier this year took care of the immediate problem - unfunded pension liabilities estimated at a staggering $24 billion. Now lawmakers need to figure out how to revamp the existing retirement system in a way that is self-sustainable, shifts future risk away from taxpayers and provides public employees with security.

It’s another tall order, but it can be done.

Gov. Henry McMaster has taken a major step toward pension reform with a proposal to shift new state employees to a 401(k)-style retirement plan. It would raise the pension system’s retirement age; prohibit cost-of-living pension increases that are not fully funded; and create a system of merit-based, bonus contributions to individual 401(k) accounts as a means of attracting and retaining public employees.

Meanwhile, counties, cities and public school district covered by the pension system would have the option to offer their own pricier retirement plans, under Mr. McMaster’s proposal.

Moving new state employees to a 401(k)-style plan is the inevitable first step in reconstructing the current system. And though it initially may have negative effects on attracting and retaining state employees, it would shield taxpayers from future risks.

Unwinding the current pension system, which includes about 558,000 members, will take decades - theoretically until the most recent hire under the existing plan receives his last pension check. And shifting new state employees to 401(k) plans would starve the pension system of contributions from new hires. Already the pension fund has suffered in recent years from a shrinking workforce, making it top heavy in retirees. Only about 220,000 employees are still paying into the system.

It will take a shrewd actuarial balancing act to fund the existing pension system as its working members diminish over time. So it is particularly good news that the state’s return on pension fund investments, worth nearly $28 billion, was about 12 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

That is significantly higher than in recent years - indeed the best return in recent memory. For actuarial purposes, the assumed annual rate of return is 7.25 percent.

So far, the State Employees Association has resisted efforts to shift new hires to 401(k)-style, or defined contribution, retirement plans, even though current members would be unaffected by the change. Its director argues that such a move would make it hard to attract qualified employees, adding that public employees in neighboring states already earn more and pay less for their benefits.

The decision, however, is up to the Legislature. The sooner that lawmakers set a date for shifting new hires to a 401(k), the better.

The bailout approved in April and begun July 1 will take five more years to be fully phased in. And it may be years beyond that before positive effects on the pension fund are fully realized. Raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living increases may be useful tools also.

But lawmakers must first agree to phase out the current system, which is still unsustainable. Mr. McMaster is leading the way by giving them a solid plan to follow.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/


Sept. 3

The Greenville News marks Labor Day with an editorial on worker training:

Labor Day means many things. It’s the last holiday of the summer, a chance to get a great deal on a new mattress and, for some with a traditional fashion sense, it’s the last time you can officially rock your summer whites.

Observed on the first Monday in September, President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day an official holiday in 1894, months after he sent in troops to break up a railway workers strike outside Chicago when rioting broke out. The holiday, was meant to make peace with the labor unions just before he ran for re-election, according to a recent article in Time Magazine.

The holiday has evolved into a celebration of the contributions of workers, the backbone of any strong economy. Here in the Upstate, where manufacturing jobs are in plentiful supply, many companies and educational institutions are working together to train workers for the tasks at hand.

Well-trained workers mean fewer accidents on the job, a stronger management team and ultimately, a more productive and profitable workforce, says Dr. Jermaine Whirl, vice president of economic development and corporate training for Greenville Technical College.

Greenville Tech recently developed and delivered training for Saati Americas Corporation, a textile manufacturing company in Fountain Inn which specializes in producing materials for the inside of personal protection gear, household appliances and other products.

The training focused on safety, quality best practices, green production, measurements and the use of basic hand tools, among other things. Greenville Tech offers four certifications that are very popular in the manufacturing industry, said Whirl.

Greenville Tech, Tri-County Tech and other schools in the Upstate offer training that is tailored to company needs. The training is usually offered on site, which means workers are trained on equipment they will use on their jobs.

Major employers such as Greenville Health System, Bosch and Lockheed often seek out training at Greenville Tech. One frequently requested course for GHS employees involves the effective use of electronic medical charts. Pharmacy technician training is another popular class.

Technical classes are not the only ones in high demand. Company officials frequently ask Greenville Tech administrators to craft courses in situational leadership for their work groups, said Whirl. “They bring in entry level folks they want to move up into management. They’ve mastered the trade; now they are going to be in charge of production associates,” he said.

Advanced level manufacturing training is often popular at Greenville Tech and other schools. There is always a demand for manufacturing workers, said Johnnie Yingst, branch manager for HTI Employment Solutions, a staffing company which serves South Carolina and parts of North Carolina.

“We get a lot of requests for forklift operators, machine operators and maintenance technicians,” she said. Her agency offers companies assistance with on boarding employees, teaching workers basic safety requirements. Partnerships with career centers and technical colleges are invaluable, she added.

Companies that don’t invest in training workers are more likely to see their employees go elsewhere. As we celebrate Labor Day, and American workers in general, it’s important to note that training improves the quality of work employees produce.

Online: https://www.greenvilleonline.com/


Sept. 5

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on a veterans center’s new container home:

The Veterans Welcome Home & Resource Center in Little River soon will have an additional residence for military veterans making the transition to civilian life: a tiny home made from a shipping container.

The container home - to be named The Rotary House - will be a progressive house, or a stepping stone, “from here, in Hutton House, to the container house,” said board member Ron Wilson.

The center on Highway 57 South includes Hutton House, which provides housing for veterans actively seeking jobs or enrolled in education or training programs.

The center received the container home as a donation after the Veterans Housing Development project disbanded. The former model home was free, but the center estimates expenses of $15,000 to $20,000 to make it a viable residence. The costs include a foundation, water and sewer connections and other utilities.

Accepting the container home “was a big decision by the board to make an investment in veterans,” said center director Doug Wing.

Paula Yanis, president of the Rotary Club of Little River, asked the center’s founder and former director Kris Tourtellotte what the center needed and, “He told me about the container home.” Yanis and the Rotary Club board secured a $2,600 Rotary District 7770 matching grant for completing the container home. The club will raise an additional $2,600.

Center board member Amy Johnston noted that the Rotary Club has supported the center from its start in 2009; chairman Keith Bacon said it was a unanimous vote of the board to name the container home The Rotary House … “as soon as the check clears.”

Wilson met Tuesday with Horry County building and zoning officials on details of completing utility connections. Early Tuesday, Derek Carney, owner of All Phase Contracting, marked off the location of 10 footings and pilings. When they are completed, a crane will lift the container onto its foundation. Doug Wing, the center’s volunteer director, estimated 60 days for having it ready for occupancy.

Johnston, who serves as office manager as well as a board member, noted the center’s help to veterans totals $34,119 through August in 2017 - compared to $500 for first year. The center operated in a rented house off U.S. 17 in Little River until 2014, when it moved to the .92-acre site on Highway 57, about a mile south of S.C. 9. The center paid the mortgage loan on the property with a large gift from a family.

From its beginning, the center has had widespread community support, including veterans organizations, civic groups such as Rotary, and others.

“By far, our largest benefactor is The Corvette Club of Myrtle Beach,” Wing said.

Veterans seeking emergency funds to pay a utility bill, for example, don’t have to wait.

“We respond right now,” Bacon said.

Online: https://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/

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