In wake of SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s spending of campaign cash, SC Progressive Network invited conservative groups to join in a press conference on Oct. 9, 2012, to ask for an independent investigation of the matter. SC Gov. Nikki Haley just days earlier returned $10,000 in improperly used campaign funds. With public frustration and disgust growing, the time is ripe for real reform in SC politics.
By Sue Sturgis
Institute for Southern Studies
Despite declining residential segregation for black families in the United States, school segregation for black students remains very high — and it is increasing most dramatically in the South, which has led the nation in desegregation thanks to the victories of the civil rights movement.
Those are among the findings of research released last week by the Los Angeles-based Civil Rights Project, which found persistent and serious increases in segregation of public-school students by race and poverty. The changes are most dramatic in the South and the West, where youth of color now constitute a majority of public school students.
“These trends threaten the nation’s success as a multiracial society,” says project co-director Gary Orfield.
The project released three separate studies looking at school segregation in the nation overall and in the South and West specifically. Among the key findings for the South:
- The South is a majority-minority region in terms of school enrollment, second only to the West as the nation’s most diverse, with whites making up 46.9 percent of the South’s students.
- Latino students account for almost the same share of the South’s school enrollment (23.4 percent) as black students (25.9 percent).
- In 1980, just 23 percent of black students in the South attended intensely segregated schools, defined as those with 90 to 100 percent minority students. By 2009-2010, that number had risen to 33.4 percent — close to the national figure of 38.1 percent.
- The share of Latino students attending intensely segregated minority schools has increased steadily over the past four decades, from 33.7 percent in 1968 to 43.1 percent in 2009. Today more than two out of five Latino students in the South attend intensely segregated schools.
- Black students experience the highest levels of exposure to poverty in nearly every Southern state, while in the rest of the United States Latino students experience higher exposure to poverty.
The report also looks at racial segregation in schools in the South’s metro areas. It found that black students in the Raleigh, N.C. area had the highest exposure to white students, though that exposure is on the decline due to the ending of a longstanding socioeconomic diversity policy by the previous school board’s Republican majority (for more on that, click here). Tampa, Fla. and Memphis, Tenn. have experienced sharp increases in school segregation, while black-white exposure in schools is on the rise in two places where it has historically been lowest: Birmingham, Ala. and New Orleans.
The researchers offer several South-specific recommendations to reverse the troubling trends, including continued or new court oversight of the region’s school districts, the development and enforcement of comprehensive post-unitary plans, and making a strong commitment to pursuing voluntary integration policies.
The Civil Rights Project is also concerned that the issue of school segregation is not getting attention in the current presidential election.
“We are disappointed to have heard nothing in the campaign about this issue from neither President Obama, who is the product of excellent integrated schools and colleges, nor from Governor Romney, whose father gave up his job in the Nixon Cabinet because of his fight for fair housing, which directly impacts school make-up,” Orfield says.
A supporter of the civil rights movement, George Romney was named secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by President Nixon and proposed an ambitious housing program to promote desegregation. But his plan was met with hostile reactions from local communities and a lack of support from Nixon, who pressured Romney to resign.
By William J. Hamilton, III
Coordinator, Hungryneck Straphangers, Charleston
A new approach to smarter transit, beyond the commonly considered issues of vehicles, routes and infrastructure, can bring Richland County a transit system people will want to ride.
Transit ridership has been increasing across the country for several years. Bus transit ridership in the United States rose 4.48% from March 2011 to March 2012, despite reductions in the number of routes operated.
In Charleston, SC, CARTA’s most recent report shows bus ridership in the Holy City increased 12.81%, reaching a record 433,221 Riders in August 2012. The system reached a record low in cost per-passenger in the first quarter as well, before inching up due to rising diesel fuel prices.
Having a transit system people will want to ride isn’t the goal. It is the strategy for success in providing mobility options to riders. If you’re not doing it, you’ll never achieve it.
Fortunately this isn’t an issue where the perfect plan, abstract political philosophy and theory are necessary to deliver results. Bus transit provides constant, measurable ridership feedback on what does and does not work. Bus routes and stops can be lengthened, shortened, adjusted and improved. Ones which simply don’t move enough riders can be canceled.
CARTA has been pursuing such a strategy for five years. All routes are reviewed for cost per-rider. Routes which don’t meet standards after six months or a year are redesigned, adjusted or canceled. New routes and services are tried. Cycle after cycle the services which move the most people at the least cost are retained and the system increases ridership.
Like any system which implies objective standards and accountability (which everyone loves in theory) it can be very hard when routes you value are under pressure to perform. Even the worst-performing bus route is precious to someone. But it’s also a fact that often, somewhere else, there are more people ready and willing to ride. Most volatility takes place at the edges of the system.
In Charleston, the busy #10 Rivers Ave. Route hasn’t moved significantly in 20 years, moving 99,624 riders in August 2012, 3000 more than a year earlier. Frequency has been increased to meet rising demand. Our #40 Route in rapidly changing East Cooper has had five major changes in seven years, but it’s ridership is up over 70% since 2007.
A new Dorchester Express Route serving a Boeing Plant which didn’t exist five years ago, transported 4,397 riders in its second full month of operation. Changes in the popular downtown DASH buses have pushed ridership there to over 95 thousand per month, increasing over 20% year to year.
While many of us dream of gleaming monorails swishing through stations made of glass, marble and neon, the old-fashioned bus has flexibility and the capacity to adapt on its side. It’s a great tool for building a more mobile community.
However the old-fashioned bus is getting smarter. GPS, cellular networks, the Internet and smartphones utterly change how buses work. In Charleston you can now plan any bus trip on CARTA online. Type your destination into your Android phone and it will return detailed plans for the next four possible trips to your destination, with the fare and savings over driving, working out the walk to the nearest stop and connections between bus routes. Tri County Link, our rural bus service, offers free WI-FI on board now, giving riders more productive ways to use their time on board.
While results-driven management and smart technology can make transit in Richland County work better, community mobility also benefits from neighborly efforts reaching out to schools, non profit groups, churches, businesses and government.
Our Hungryneck Straphanger’s organization divides its time between advocacy and outreach, both trying to get better services and facilities and making sure they get used. Handing out schedules to staff at Hospital ERs and Clinics works. Having the Moultrie Middle School Beta Club promote transit to their peers fills seats. Participating in community festivals like the Blessing of the Fleet raises awareness. Hanging bus schedules on apartment complex doorknobs delivers results.
Since people know their area’s bus service will improve if more people ride and faces changes if they don’t, it’s easier to get the community to engage. Every rider and business becomes an advocate. It takes five seconds to explain it to the Manager of a McDonalds facing the need to regularly hire new staff. It takes longer to explain it to the owner, but after a while the whole community gets it, because everyone benefits directly or indirectly from improved bus service, or suffers if service is reduced.
Organizations like the Hungryneck Straphangers exist in dozens of communities across the US today. With a flexible system, you can adapt smart technology to help riders navigate it, and organizations to connect people and transit within the community. Richland County can build a 21st Century transit system people will want to ride.
William Hamilton is an attorney, writer and 30-year transit rider. He is the coordinator of the Hungryneck Straphangers.
Imagine how different South Carolina would be today if another 15% of registered black voters had bothered to vote in 2010.
If they had, South Carolina probably wouldn’t be suing the federal government to require voters to have photo IDs, or to allow police to require strangers to show their papers. We might have a Health Exchange that lowered the cost of health insurance. We would be embracing the expansion of Medicaid to 344,000 poor South Carolinians – with the state paying only 5% of the cost – as a terrific deal.
“We’re not losing elections,” said SC Progressive Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders, “we’re forfeiting them.” Sanders is referring to the fact that it would have only taken 15% of the registered black citizens who sat out the 2010 election to have changed the results. Nikki Haley won the race by 59,971 votes. There were 387,559 registered, and 168,734 unregistered, blacks who didn’t vote in 2010.
“We have the names and addresses of these missing voters,” Sanders said, “and we need help to knock on their doors. We can provide lists of infrequent and unregistered black voters in any precinct in the state.” Sanders is the Midlands coordinator of the Missing Voter Project, a nonpartisan voter registration/education effort that has registered and educated SC voters since 2004.
“We don’t tell people who to vote for,” said Network Midlands coordinator Bishop Shirley Raiford,” and we don’t just organize around elections. We educate people about the issues and policies that affect their lives and urge them to get involved in an ongoing movement for social justice. If a few more black citizens realized that we have the power to improve the quality of life in this state we might not have the nation’s poorest funded mental health services, lowest Temporary Aid to Needy Families and the country’s shortest unemployment coverage.”
The MVP data base targets voter engagement efforts down to individual addresses. “We don’t have to set up a table at the shopping center and wait for a missing voter to walk by, we know where they live,” Sanders said. “We need your help talk to all of them.”
Citizens, schools, churches and organizations who want to participate in the nonpartisan Missing Voter Project should contact the Progressive Network at 803-808-3384, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A rough estimate using figures from the recent Carnegie-Knight Foundation’s study of voter fraud indicates that the South Carolina photo voter ID law will prevent one in-person election fraud every 68 years.
10 cases in last 6 election cycles nation wide.
145 million registered US voters
= one fraudster per 85 million possible votes.
If every one of South Carolina’s 2.5 million voters are required to show a photo ID when they vote, over the next 68 years (34 election cycles) we will catch one fraudster impersonating someone at the polls.
According to the National Weather Service, during the time it will take to catch one vote fraudster, 85 South Carolina voters will be struck by lightning.
South Carolina is in the process of spending $1.5 million on private attorneys to overturn the Dept. of Justice ruling that our photo voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. The case is scheduled to be heard in DC federal court beginning Aug. 27.
Read the Washington Post story on the report.
Three local high school students are helping all of us to be more mindful of our constitutional freedoms, particularly the freedom of and from religion. Irmo High School students Max Nielson (who just graduated), Dakota McMillan and Jacob Zupan have filed suit against Lexington-Richland School District 5 over its policy of allowing an invocation and benediction at high school graduations if a majority of students vote to have one, if it is delivered by a student and if it is non-sectarian and non-proselytizing.
Their lawsuit invokes the First and 14th Amendments, which prohibit Congress or state or local governments from “respecting an establishment of religion.” Thomas Jefferson referred to this principle as a “wall of separation between church and state.” That wall prevents zealots from using the power or purse of the government to force their religious beliefs or practices on the rest of us, while also preventing an overreaching government from interfering or intruding in religious beliefs or practices. The wall of separation protects the integrity of both government and religion.
That wall was strengthened in 1962 by the Supreme Court’s Engel v. Vitale decision, which has been misinterpreted and misrepresented for the past 50 years. Those on the religious right who believe that the separation of church and state is a myth mistakenly say that the ruling outlawed prayer in public schools; that it, in fact, kicked God out of the public schools.
This is absolutely not true. The Supreme Court outlawed government-sponsored, coercive, public prayers, not voluntary, individual prayers; as long as there are tests, it’s a safe bet that students will pray. The claims makes me wonder about the fragility of the faith of those who make them. Surely God is wherever a heart has room for love.
In the Engel case, the school board claimed that students were not coerced to pray because parents could excuse their children from the classroom during the prayer. But as the court wisely observed, “When the power, prestige, and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.”
The graduation prayers at Irmo High may have the approval of a majority of students and may be delivered by students, but they receive the school’s implicit endorsement nonetheless. They are delivered as part of a school program in which students are a captive audience. I suppose students who do not want to participate in this religious exercise could skip their graduation or walk out of the auditorium during the prayer or put iPod buds in their ears or simply endure it for a few moments. But they shouldn’t have to. This is their graduation, too, and public schools are for all the public, even religious minorities and those of no religion.
Our Constitution ensures not only the rule of the majority but also the rights of the minority, which it preserves by preventing a tyranny of the majority. Rights are not voted on. That’s why they’re called rights.
Official school prayer is bad government policy and bad religious practice. It turns what should be an intimate matter into a public ceremony. Jesus was concerned that certain misguided pious people of his day were transforming his religion into a public show. He advised his followers not to be like the hypocrites who make a big display of praying in public, but to go to one’s room, shut the door and pray in private. Jesus understood that conspicuous prayer is not authentic prayer.
Nielson, McMillan, and Zupan may be students, but they are teaching an invaluable civics lesson on the meaning of separation of church and state, religious liberty and democratic government. Their lawsuit is proof that we have failed to learn the lesson.
The Rev. Dr. Jones is president of the Columbia Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Columbia.
By SC Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter
Chief Justice John Roberts is to be commended for the courage and leadership he showed in the historic recent ruling by the US Supreme Court. The decision upholding the Affordable Care Act was a fitting tribute and wonderful gift for America’s 236th birthday.
If only Gov. Nikki Haley, Attorney General Alan Wilson, and others in positions of leadership saw it the same way. Their insistence on continuing to spend time and our state’s limited resources fighting for the sake of fighting is a waste of taxpayer money.
What happened to this notion of the rule of law and respect for the process? Does that apply only when we agree, otherwise we are free to take our ball and go home? The Supreme Court is the final arbiter, accept it and move on. To do otherwise shows more interest in scoring political points on the national stage than truly addressing the needs of nearly one million South Carolinians who are without health care insurance.
The core argument is that the state should decide what the best plan to provide coverage to 900,000-plus uninsured South Carolinians looks like. Rep. Harold Mitchell and I introduced legislation last year that would have given South Carolina an opportunity to do just that. Our bill created health exchanges, new marketplaces starting in 2014 that will allow individuals and small businesses to compare and choose private health plans.
The passage of the Affordable Care Act included funds for states to plan for a state-based solution for providing health care coverage for the uninsured. South Carolina accepted $1 million from the federal government as a planning grant, while Gov. Haley developed a plan to opt out.
So where is the plan; how will it provide coverage; how many will be covered; during what time period; at what cost to taxpayers; and what steps are in place to implement it? These are reasonable questions since we are refusing to expand Medicaid to 133% of poverty, as 43 other states have done.
Understanding the Affordable Care Act requires accurate information. A lot of South Carolinians who stand to benefit most have decided they don’t support the law. They would be wise to considerer the facts:
- Insurance companies no longer have unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your child coverage due to a pre-existing condition or charge women more than men.
- Coverage of preventive care free of charge like mammograms for women and wellness visits for seniors.
- 5.3 million Seniors and people with disabilities have already been helped to save an average of over $600 on prescription drugs in the “donut hole” in Medicare coverage.
- Children up to 26 years of age can stay on parent’s policy.
- The federal government for three years pays 100% of the costs to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured. After the third year the federal portion of the tab is 90% and 10% to the state.
The fig leaf opponents have grabbed from the Supreme Court’s decision is the tax label. The fact is the tax will apply to less than 1% of irresponsible Americans who can afford insurance but refuse to buy it passing their cost of care on to the rest of us.
Enough already! Empty rhetoric and name calling might score political points with certain base voters, but it does nothing to get uninsured South Carolinians adequate coverage.
Richland County Council voted yesterday to place a referendum on the November ballot for voters in the county to consider adding a penny to the sales tax (taking it to 8 cents) to fund transportation.
The SC Progressive Network and ATU turned out dozens of bus and DART riders to press for 33% of the penny to be allocated to public transit. Council gave second reading to a proposal that funds public transit at 25%, with 71% to roads and 4% to pathways.
The front-page story in today’s State newspaper reported that the public hearing was “packed with sign-toting, T-shirt wearing bus advocates.”
“While we didn’t get the council to fund a great public transit system, the 20-year penny tax will raise over a quarter-billion dollars for public transit, more than doubling what has ever been budgeted,” Network Director Brett Bursey said.
“This plan takes us from bad to good, and we will remain engaged to insure the initiative passes in November and that public transit better serves the needs of its users.”
Lucious Williams, Vice President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 610, testifies June 19 before Richland County Council.
Tell Them Action Alert!
Yesterday, Governor Haley vetoed the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act, which would have provided optional information to middle school students and their parents on the importance of preventing HVP and cervical cancer.
Just 5 years ago, Representative Haley co-sponsored a bill that would have mandated students receive the HPV vaccination. My how the political winds have shifted!
Click here to tell Gov. Haley to stop playing politics with our children’s health.
Do you believe all South Carolinians have the right to receive public health information designed to protect them from infections and diseases? Sign Tell Them’s Bill of Rights.
The 119th Session of the South Carolina General Assembly ended on Thursday (they will be meeting this week to discuss the budget). Over the past two years, Tell Them advocates and partners sent over 20,000 emails, communicating with all 170 members of the South Carolina legislature.
Tell Them focused on 8 bills and budget provisos this session. Here are some highlights from the session:
* DEFEATED the Right to Refuse Act (aka the Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act) and protected patients’ rights to unfiltered information and services from health care providers
* HELPED TO MAINTAIN FUNDING for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to hundreds of needy South Carolinians
* WIN! Maintained coverage for services for victims of rape and incest and ensuring complete access to health care options
* NEUTRALIZED the Provider Liability Burden (aka the Born Alive Bill) and allowed doctors to continue making the best medical decisions for their patients.
Tell Them’s 10,000 members have made a tremendous impact on our state. As efforts to limit access to reproductive health care continue, we will remain a powerful voice for reproductive justice and responsible health care policies in South Carolina.
25-year-old SC Rep. Boyd Brown (D), who is going to law school instead of seeking a third term, bids his colleagues farewell.
By Becci Robbins
Talk about falling down the rabbit hole. At this time last week I was making a gift for my friend Donna Dewitt to celebrate her retirement from the SC AFL-CIO. And what says party like a piñata?
Yes, the piñata was my idea. I made it. I filled it with candy and Bobby Bucks. I videotaped its predictable demise. I sent the clip to friends to amuse them in these most un-amusing times. Who knew it would go viral?
The breathless response has been over the top, a sad commentary on the echo chamber that is the Internet.
Was the piñata in poor taste? Yes. Was it malicious? No. Am I sorry it caused some people to lose their minds? That’s their problem.
My only regret is having put a dear friend in the position of having to defend a piñata she did not know about or ask for. Donna works harder at a thankless job than anyone I know. She doesn’t deserve the heat she’s taken, including death threats and a promise from Gov. Nikki Haley on national TV to “continue beating up on unions.”
To fixate on unions instead of dealing with the critical problems we’re facing is to use the tired politics of distraction. I should have expected it from the governor, whose favorite posture is that of victim – first of racism, then sexism, now union thugs.
While Haley has made an odd habit of union-bashing, for me she crossed the line when she used her last State of the State address to proclaim: “Unions are not needed, wanted or welcome in South Carolina.” Instead of a message to unite all of us who call the Palmetto State home, she served up a campaign speech of red meat. It was inappropriate. And insulting.
When the governor bashes unions, she’s bashing my colleagues. She’s bashing my friends. She’s bashing my family. She’s bashing me. So forgive me for taking it personally, but I’ve had enough.
The piñata was intended as comic relief among friends after a long day of talking about the state budget, our election system and workers’ rights at the SC Progressive Network‘s annual spring conference. The party was a chance to unwind and honor Donna, our longtime co-chair. For the governor to use the incident for political gain is predictable but unfair, and more than a little ironic.
After all, Donna didn’t do anything as shameful as cut funding for education and mental health services. She didn’t gut environmental regulations or stack boards with corporate cronies. She didn’t show contempt to the Supreme Court. She didn’t campaign on a promise of transparency and then routinely sanitize her paper trail. She didn’t lobby for a corporation while being on their payroll. She didn’t use her power like a bludgeon.
Donna smacked a piñata. Which is, good people, what happens to piñatas. I made one of a Corporate Fat Cat for John Spratt’s retirement party, and it, too, got smashed. Why didn’t it go viral? Because nobody could make political hay out of it.
And that’s exactly what the governor is doing. Yesterday I got an email solicitation from her office inviting me to watch the video and contribute $250 to fight “Big Labor.” The email mentions President Obama twice. Talk about tasteless.
The governor will get no apology from me. But I offer one to Donna for putting her in an awful position. She could have risked hurting my feelings by refusing to play along at the party. Or she could have thrown me under the bus when she started catching heat. She did neither. As a labor leader, she knows something the governor doesn’t: solidarity matters most when it’s inconvenient.
Sorry if this flap has embarrassed any of our members. Please know that Donna and Network Director Brett Bursey have made the best of the rare media attention. (Watch Brett on Fox and Donna on CNN, for starters.)
It may not be pretty, but at least people are talking about organized labor in South Carolina. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue, and it’s up to us to keep it honest.
Becci Robbins is SC Progressive Network Communications Director. Reach her at email@example.com.
SC Progressive Network Spring Gathering
May 19, 10:30am – 5:30pm
CWA Hall, 566 Chris Dr., West Columbia
Network Co-chair Rep. Joe Neal answers questions at the 2011 Spring Gathering.
10am: Registration, coffee and doughnuts
10:30 – Welcome and introductions
11 – Missing Voter Project Workshop: Finding, registering and engaging the 50 percent of South Carolinians who don’t vote
11:30 – Racial Profiling Workshop: Are your local cops following the law the Network helped pass? What you can do about it.
Noon – lunch and Social Media Workshop (optional): Everything you wanted to know about social networking but were afraid to ask
1pm – Sorry State of the State: A reality check and a call to organize!
- Update on Network’s recent and future fight for a moral budget, and planning next steps
- Protecting voting rights in South Carolina – what we did last year, and a look at what’s ahead
- Defending the working class and collective bargaining in a fiercely right-to-work state
4 – Network business and political endorsement process
5 – Reception to honor the retiring Donna Dewitt for her years of service to SC’s labor community. She will be the first to take a whack at a Haley pinata.
$10 registration includes conference materials and lunch by Tio’s
RSVP at 803-808-3384 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More about the Network at scpronet.com
Sen. Phil Leventis has introduced the “TRAC Recommendation Act” (S 1454) that eliminates or reduces many sales tax exemptions, a move supported by the SC Progressive Network, which has been working to promote fair taxation and sustainable budgets. “Our state’s not broke,” Leventis said at a May 1 press conference, “but we are teetering on the verge of moral bankruptcy in our failure to meet the needs of our citizens.”
Unlike the recommendation by the Republican-sponsored Tax Realignment Commission (TRAC) that called for using new revenue to further lower taxes, Leventis’ bill requires new revenue to be used to fund statutory obligations for education and local governments. The legislation would increase the state’s budget by nearly $1 billion next year.
Leventis noted that during his 32 years as a state senator, “I have been guided by the principle that government should invest in meeting the needs and aspirations of its citizens. This principle has been undermined by an ideology claiming that government is the cause of our problems, and accordingly, must be starved. A government unwilling to invest tax dollars in itself and its citizens is the real source of our problems. When businesses strive to be competitive, they do so by investing in their future. That is what we have to do today in South Carolina to insure a more prosperous future.”
We’re not broke; narrow political ideology has trumped statesmanship. The lack of political will to fairly reform our tax codes to meet our basic civic contracts for education and infrastructure leads our citizens to believe that “minimally adequate” is the best we can hope for.
Leventis was joined by representatives from the SC Progressive Network, a coalition of organizations that represents the interests of a majority of the state’s families who make less than $42,000 a year.
“We don’t expect the legislature to pass the bill this year, but it’s critical for the public to understand that a lot of money is being left on the table,” said Network director Brett Bursey. “It should be up to the taxpayers to decide if their money is best spent on education or on further reducing taxes to compete with Mexico.“
Of all the industrialized nations, only Chile and Mexico have a lower individual tax burden than the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the 50 states, South Carolina is ranked 43rd in the nation in taxes as a percentage of income, and dead last in per-capita state taxes (National Tax Foundation).
“We’re all better off, when we’re all better off,” said Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders, citing a recent International Monetary Fund report on the correlation between income inequality and general prosperity.
Our state’s business-friendly climate is reflected in the Forbes ranking that puts South Carolina 5th in its “business friendly regulatory environment” but 44th in quality of life. Forbes ranks the quality of our labor supply at 22nd, far behind North Carolina (third) and Georgia (fourth). “The message this sends is that South Carolina, with its lax regulations and unskilled labor force, is a cheap place to do business — but you might not want to live here,” Bursey said.
The House budget cuts mandatory funding for education by $665 million and local government funds by $71 million. These spending levels are set by law, but EFA and local government funding obligations are ignored by budget provisos due to a presumed lack of revenue and lack of political will. These cuts means larger classes, fewer teachers, police and fire fighters, as well as deteriorating infrastructure, all of which combine to make our state less competitive.
SC Education Association Jackie Hicks addresses the shortfall in education funds that could be helped by Leventis’ bill. See more photos from the press conference here.
The TRAC recommendations on sales taxes would raise nearly $1 billion next year and more in coming years. This is close to what we need to meet these mandatory spending levels, and more comprehensive tax reforms would meet and exceed them for years to come.
“The critical debate I hope to spark,” Leventis said, “is whether the role of our government is shaped by the special-interest groups who make the majority of campaign contributions, or by the citizens who pay the taxes. I believe that citizens are willing to pay fair and equitable taxes when they get their money’s worth. It’s called democracy.”
In this year’s House budget:
• The statutory funding level for the Education Finance Act was cut by $665 million, keeping our per-pupil funding at 1998 levels.
• The statutory funding for local governments’ support of police, fire and public services was cut $71 million.
• The revenue from the extra penny of sales tax for Act 388 was $129.5 million short of what was needed for education funding through sales tax, rather than property tax, requiring another raid on the General Fund.
The House budget shorted mandatory funding of these core public services by nearly $736 million. If you add the $129.5 million shifted from the General Fund, you come up with just about what the TRAC recommendations could recover through broad and fair sales tax reforms.
The TRAC Recommendations Act (S 1454) would:
• Raise the $300 “max tax” on cars, boats and planes and raise $61-$143 million annually as increased caps kick in.
• Tax food (not purchased with food stamps) at an effective rate of 2.41%, raising $251 million next year. 18.2% of the state’s population is receiving SNAP benefits and will pay no tax on food.
• Tax non Medicaid/Medicare medicine (with a $100 cap) and home utilities at an effective rate of 1.25%, raising $124 million next year. Those on Medicare or Medicaid (44% of the state’s children) will pay no tax on medicine.
By Sen. Phil Leventis
With my legislative tenure coming to an end, I want to share something with my fellow South Carolinians. Our state is not broke, but we are teetering on the verge of moral bankruptcy in our failure to meet the needs of our citizens. That’s why I have introduced the TRAC Recommendation Act (S.1454) that eliminates or reduces many sales-tax exemptions. The nearly $1 billion this act will raise annually would be used to pay for education and local governments, which continue to be shorted due to lack of revenue.
During my 32 years as a legislator, I have been guided by the principle that government should invest in meeting the needs and aspirations of its citizens. This principle has been undermined by an ideology claiming that government is the cause of our problems and, accordingly, must be starved.
The real source of our problems is a government unwilling to invest tax dollars in itself and its citizens. When businesses strive to be competitive, they invest in their future. That is what we have to do today in South Carolina to ensure a more prosperous future.
We’re not broke. The problem is that narrow political ideology has trumped statesmanship. The lack of political will to fairly reform our tax code to meet our basic civic contracts for education and infrastructure leads our citizens to believe that “minimally adequate” is the best we can hope for.
In 2010, the Tax Realignment Commission (TRAC) was created to review the state’s tax code and recommend changes “designed to ensure that the state’s tax structure is balanced so that the system is adequate, equitable, and efficient.” The TRAC commissioners and staff did a thorough job of reviewing tax loopholes and inequities, and recommended reforms of sales-tax exemptions that could raise close to $1 billion the first year.
Sadly, ideology trumped common sense, and the Republican-created and -appointed commission’s goal was to use any new revenue to further reduce taxes and increase corporate subsidies, not pay our bills.
Our state’s fixation on being business-friendly is reflected in the Forbes ranking that puts South Carolina fifth in its “business friendly regulatory environment” but 44th in quality of life. Forbes ranks the quality of our labor supply at 22nd, far behind North Carolina (third) and Georgia (fourth). The message this sends is that South Carolina, with its lax regulations and unskilled labor force, is a cheap place to do business — but you might not want to live here.
To put the anti-tax ideology in perspective, consider that of all the industrialized nations, only Turkey and Mexico have a lower individual tax burden than the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The anti-tax National Tax Foundation ranks South Carolina 43rd among the 50 states in taxes as a percentage of income, and dead last in per capita state and local taxes. You begin to wonder why we need to further reduce taxes when we can’t pay our bills.
The House’s budget cuts mandatory funding for education by $665 million and local government funds by $71 million and robs $118 million from the general fund to cover the sales-tax shortfall of Act 388’s property-tax swap. These spending levels are set by law, but education and local government funding obligations are ignored annually by budget provisos because of a presumed lack of revenue and a clear shortage of political courage. These cuts mean larger classes, fewer teachers, police and firefighters and deteriorating infrastructure, all of which combine to make our state less competitive.
The TRAC recommendations on sales taxes would raise nearly $1 billion next year and more in coming years. This is what we need to meet these mandatory spending requirements, and more comprehensive tax reforms would meet and exceed them for years to come.
I’m sponsoring this bill because there is no real legislative debate — and little public understanding — about how we could raise the revenue to pay our bills with fair and broad tax reforms while also improving our quality of life and strengthening our economy.
The critical debate I hope to spark is whether the role of our government is shaped by the special-interest groups who make the majority of campaign contributions, or by the citizens who pay the taxes. I believe that citizens are willing to pay fair and equitable taxes when they get their money’s worth. It’s called democracy, and it’s past time for South Carolinians to reclaim it.
Sen. Leventis is a Sumter businessman; contact him at email@example.com.