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.
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.
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.
The Pew Center on the States recently released a study on Upward and Downward Mobility of the citizens in all 50 states. The study measured residents’ average earnings growth over the last 10 years.
If you have been following South Carolina’s race to the bottom, you won’t be surprised to find that more of us moved down, and fewer moved up than in 47 other states. South Carolina tied for last with Oklahoma and Louisiana.
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.
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.
Richland County Council Chambers, 2020 Hampton St.
(Come by 5:30pm to get a free public transit T-shirt.)
Richland County Council is holding a public hearing on funding public transportation for the next 20 years. Council is proposing an additional county-wide penny sales tax for roads, buses and pathways. We support the penny tax, but strongly believe that the bus system and DART are being under-funded.
Council’s own consultant recommended 60% for roads, 33% for public transit and 7% for pathways. Council is proposing a formula that gives roads 71%, public transit 25% and pathways 4%.
Since roads have other sources of funding and public transit and pathways are always under-funded, Council should put the consultants’ funding formula on the November ballot.
Come to the hearing, or contact your County Council representative and tell them to fund a modern public transit that will:
Create jobs and stimulate economic growth
Reduce our dependence on foreign energy
Ease congestion on our highways
Protect the environment
Dramatically increase frequency of service, longer hours and effective feeder routes
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.
* 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.
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.
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.“
“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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In their ongoing efforts to reduce the corrupting influence of money in state politics, the SC Progressive Network and Common Cause SC, will hold a press conference April 18 at 5:30pm at the courtyard entrance to the Wilbur Smith Building at Gervais and Sumter to bring attention to the high-stakes game of pay-to-play politics.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell is hosting a fundraiser at 6pm for his political action committee, the Palmetto Leadership Council, on the building’s 20th floor. Membership in his PAC is $3,500.
“The Speaker’s leadership PAC allows wealthy donors to get around campaign contribution limits,” said John Crangle, Director of Common Cause SC. “It’s the most egregious example of pay-to play politics.”
Crangle’s group was instrumental in getting the state Senate to pass a rule last session banning leadership PACs. “We want to raise public awareness about how Speaker Harrell’s leadership PAC not only enhances corporate influence, but greatly leverages the Speaker’s power over the House,” Crangle said.
“Bobby Bucks” valued at the $3,500 cost of membership in Rep. Harrel’s PAC will be doled out to the public and those attending his fundraiser.
Text on the back of Bobby Buck: Money — rather than good ideas — fuels South Carolina’s politics. Ninety percent of the candidates who spend the most money win. An incumbent who spends the most money, has a 98 percent chance of being elected.
While state ethics laws limit campaign contributions to House races at $1000, a proliferation of political action committees (PACs) allow deep-pocket donors to get around the limit.
For example, the Palmetto Leadership Council is a PAC headed by the SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Membership in his Leadership PAC cost $3,500. Harrell says on his PAC’s web site, “We are building a unique coalition between leaders in the private sector and those of us engaged in public service.”
While Harrell, or a corporation like AT&T, can only make a $1000 donation to a House candidate, AT&T can make a $3,500 donation to Harrell’s Leadership PAC, which can then make another $1,000 donation to the same candidate.
Harrell’s PAC has raised nearly $1 million since its founding in 2004, with 98.7 percent going to Republican candidates (79 percent incumbents). More than 89 percent of the candidates backed by Harrell’s PAC won election.
Harrell’s largest donations were $100,000 checks written to the state Republican Party. The party can then make a $5,000 contribution to the same candidate that received the $1,000 maximum from Harrell’s PAC. It’s a way around campaign finance laws, and it’s legal.
Join the SC Progressive Network and Common Cause’s efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics. Tell Rep. Harrell and other House members to follow the state Senate’s lead and end House leadership PACs.