Occupy Columbia protesters defy Gov. Haley’s orders to leave State House grounds at 6pm.
SC Progressive Network issues call for citizens to challenge Gov. Haley’s order. Some 300 people showed up for a spirited rally at the State House. Nobody was arrested. Big night for free speech in South Carolina.
SC Progressive Network Director declares victory with Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the only legislator to risk arrest in defense of the First Amendment.
Photos of Gov. Nikki Haley’s press conference Nov. 16 announcing the eviction of the Occupy Columbia protesters, and the arrest of 19 two hours later.
The SC Progressive Network is asking South Carolina citizens to gather at the State House on Monday, Nov. 21, to challenge Gov. Nikki Haley’s order against protesting on the grounds after 6pm.
“We are urging citizens who believe that our First Amendment right to petition our government doesn’t end at sunset to join us at the State House from 6 to 7pm on Monday,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “We will peacefully protest on the grounds, and are inviting legislators to join us in taking a stand for free speech in South Carolina.”
Gov. Nikki Haley orders protesters off the State House grounds at a Nov. 16 press conference. Two hours later, 19 Occupy Columbia activists are arrested.
The Network is a 16-year-old statewide coalition of advocacy organizations and grassroots activists that promotes democratic reforms, including reducing the influence of money in politics. “We do not believe that money is free speech, that corporations are people, or that the Occupy Wall Street protests don’t have a clear message,” Bursey said.
Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders said the the prohibition against protesting after 6pm reminds her of Columbia’s old Jim Crow practice of running the last bus to the black communities before dark. “The governor is saying that if I work until 5pm, my opportunity to protest her decisions will last about 15 minutes,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ remembers 1961, when 187 black students were arrested for protesting racial segregation on the State House grounds. The US Supreme Court threw out the conviction, ordering that the state could not “make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.”
Participants in Monday’s protest will not be arrested unless they refuse to leave after being ordered to do so by the Bureau of Protective Services.
Neither the Governor’s Office, the Dept. of Public Saftey or the Bureau responded to repeated requests Friday for clarification of the new limits on First Amendment expression on the State House grounds. “It’s my guess that they don’t have a clue how to enforce an illegal order,” Bursey said.
“If I can’t stand on the State House grounds with a sign that expresses my opinion about how our democracy has been hijacked by corporate interests, I’d rather be in jail,” he said.
Progressive Network Movie Night
Forks Over Knives
Nov. 22, 6:30–9:30pm
Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St., West Columbia
Learn about the great health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet while sampling vegan dishes at our FREE screening of Forks Over Knives and potluck!
Don’t miss this film, full of crucial information but also easy and fun to watch. You will not be subjected to scenes of factory farm horror; instead you’ll see evidence of health hazards caused by meat and dairy in the human diet. Watch what happens when the narrator decides to try a whole foods, plant-based diet during filming. The results are extraordinary.
Beer and other beverages available for purchase. Bring a non-veg friend. The hope is to inspire people who haven’t tried a plant-based diet to move in that direction.
Film starts at 7pm. See movie trailer and more at www.forksoverknives.com. The SC Progressive Network shows free movies every 4th Tuesday.
Thanks to Rosewood Market for donated organic vittles.
Download a flyer to post at work, school or church.
By Margaret Newkirk and Frank Bass
Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) — Nineteen years ago, when BMW announced a new factory off Interstate 85 in Spartanburg, South Carolina looked like the king of smokestack recruiting.
The world’s biggest manufacturer of luxury vehicles would make the city a “Mecca of foreign investment in the United States,” The Independent of London predicted. It would see a rush of industry chasing Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke AG. Downtown would spring to life. I-85 would be America’s Autobahn.
“Oh, they were going to solve all of our problems,” said Cynthia Lounds, director of community economic development at Piedmont Community Actions Inc., a social-service agency.
Today, South Carolina is one of the most impoverished states in the nation, becoming the seventh poorest in 2010 from 11th in 2007, according to recent U.S. Census data. Its percentage of residents living in poverty shot to 18.2 percent from 15 percent in that period. In downtown Spartanburg, near- empty Morgan Square features a used clothing store and two pawn shops.
South Carolina and other southern U.S. states topped the nation’s poverty rankings, a sign of trouble in the so-called New South known for its growth and ability to lure employers with laws restricting union organizing. The South was the country’s only region with an increase from 2009 to 2010 in both the number of poor and their proportion of the population, the census said.
‘Downward Pressure on Wages’
The numbers show that even as South Carolina trumpeted coups like BMW, the state’s stance toward organized labor has depressed living standards, said Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, North Carolina.
“There’s been this kind of undertow of low-wage jobs all along,” Kromm said. “There have been successes in luring industries, there’s no question about that. But it brought an overall downward pressure on wages.”
Job creation is at the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. South Carolina on Jan. 21 will play a key role as host to the first Southern primary in the race to select President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger.
The effect of right-to-work laws on wages has been the subject of intense debate for years. The National Right to Work Committee, for instance, says that employee compensation rose faster in states with those laws, according to the organization’s website.
South Carolina’s rising poverty rate coincides with a dispute over expansion of a Boeing Co. plant in North Charleston. The National Labor Relations Board sued Boeing Co. over its decision to locate a 4,000-job factory there, saying the move was intended to punish union activity at its base in Washington State.
“It’s like the Obama administration can’t come up with anything else to stifle business growth in this state,” said Lewis Gossett, president of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance.
Hostility to organized labor was at the core of the region’s strategy for attracting jobs: South Carolina joined the ranks of right-to-work states in 1954, outlawing contracts that require union membership or dues, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
‘Come on Down!’
The state marketed its non-union labor in the unionized North, said Brett Bursey, executive director of the SC Progressive Network, an activist group based in Columbia. One industry recruiting poster from the 1980s, he said, showed a man in a T-shirt and a swelling belly. “South Carolina has no labor pains,” it read. “Come on down!”
The fight over Chicago-based Boeing’s efforts to expand in North Charleston has revived the issue. With the state’s unemployment rate at 11.1 percent in August, compared with 9.1 percent nationwide, even some critics of the state’s labor stance want the Boeing plant to stay open.
“There’s not a lot of debate about that around here,” said Joseph Darby, a pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston who criticized what he said is the state’s emphasis on low-skill work over education. “The area is so starved for jobs.”
Like much of the Southeast, South Carolina lost construction employment during the recession. Its textile industry continued to bleed jobs as well: Union County, about 20 miles from Spartanburg, had the state’s fourth-highest unemployment rate after a sock factory and a mill closed in 2009 and 2010. The county also lost a 150-job Disney distribution warehouse it had lured from Memphis 12 years earlier with tax breaks. Disney moved the operation back to Tennessee in July.
“I’m just waiting to see what God has in store for me,” said Joan Bobo, 49, who worked at the facility since it opened. “I’m experienced in warehouse work. I haven’t found anything yet.”
South Carolina has seen good business news in the past year. Manufacturing employment in August was up 11,000 jobs from a year earlier, including 1,600 new jobs at BMW. The state beat out North Carolina for a Continental Tire company factory on Oct. 6. It’s getting an Amazon distribution center near Columbia.
BMW’s South Carolina plant directly and indirectly supported 23,050 jobs in 2007 and 2008, generating $1.2 billion in wages, according to a study by the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The automaker’s direct employees at the plant accounted for 2.2 percent of the state’s manufacturing employment, the study said.
“Since announcing our BMW operations in South Carolina in 1992, and beginning production in 1994, our expectations have continually been exceeded,” Max Metcalf, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Some of the new jobs in the state, though, have carried a downside. Employers began hiring through staffing agencies, instead of directly. The jobs were temporary and lower paid than permanent positions. At BMW, the difference was $15 per hour compared with $15.50, Metcalf said. The company needs the flexibility to respond to demand, he said, and recently moved many temporary workers to permanent status.
While South Carolina’s private businesses have added employment, the state lost 15,700 government positions in the year ending in August.
Juanita Dixon, 33, lost her seven-year government job in February. A community-college graduate and mother of two, Dixon earned $10.25 an hour, paid vacation and insurance as a medical assistant at a county rehabilitation center. Budget cuts closed it, she said in a phone interview.
Five Applications Daily
Dixon put in five job applications daily, she said. When BMW’s staffing contractor held a job fair at a hotel, she applied and was told the wage was $13 an hour.
She passed a written test, but failed a physical one. “You have to put tires on a car, and you have to do so many in so much time,” Dixon said. “They said, ‘You can reapply in a year.’”
Dixon now works at Spartanburg’s new Adidas Distribution Center, earning $9 an hour doing factory warehouse work. She got the job through a staffing agency in September: “It’s a temporary job for three months,” she said.
When BMW arrived in the city, the look of the place was transformed, said Lounds, of Piedmont Community Actions. Factory workers tooled around town in cars bought with employee discounts.
“There were more BMWs around here than Fords,” she said.
Drawn by BMW
Out on I-85, BMW now employs 7,000, nearly twice the 4,000 promised in the 1990s, said Metcalf, the spokesman. The automaker attracted more than 40 suppliers to the state, spurred investment in the Port of Charleston and invested $750 million during the recession in Spartanburg, which now has 277,916 people, according to the census.
Yet the I-85 “autobahn” of industry didn’t materialize, said Holly Ulrich, senior scholar at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs at Clemson University.
“Those predictions were made during the boom years for South Carolina and the South, before a series of national economic catastrophes,” Ulrich said. “I haven’t seen evidence that it happened.”
On Sept. 27, five days after the census poverty numbers were released, the first-term Republican governor, Nikki Haley, tried to boost morale. She ordered state workers to change the way they answered the phone.
By the next morning, callers to an unemployment office in Spartanburg heard the new message: ‘It’s a great day in South Carolina.”
–Editors: Flynn McRoberts, Stephen Merelman
To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org; Frank Bass in Washington at email@example.com. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SC Progressive Network is holding a series of community forums titled “Voter ID and the new Jim Crow.” Network Director Brett Bursey will moderate. Each event will include a Q&A session and instructions for activists to work the issue in their community.
The forums will address the moving target of DOJ pre-clearance, and where we should put our efforts to try and stop it. The meeting will recognize photo ID as a symptom of larger problems, and will focus discussion on sharpening a strategy to address The Big Picture.
The Network is planning a statewide summit on Oct. 29 in Columbia to sharpen our focus and efforts. Details and agenda to be posted as they become available.
Call 803-808-3384 or email email@example.com for details or to schedule a meeting in your area.
• • •
Sept. 12, Florence: 7pm at Poyner Auditorium, 319 South Dargan St.
Sept. 15, Beaufort: 6:30pm at Golden Corral, 122 Robert Smalls Pkwy. or Hwy. 170. Come early if you want to have dinner.
Sept. 20, Charleston: 7pm at ILA Hall, 1142 Morrison Dr.
Sept. 22, Greenville: 7pm at Furman University, Younts Conference Center.
As state works to satisfy DOJ’s questions, SC Progressive Network will continue to educate and mobilize SC voters
By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communication Director
The US Dept. of Justice denied approval of South Carolina’s new voter ID law on Aug. 29, giving the state another 60 days to make its case. As required by the Civil Rights Act, DOJ has been reviewing the law to ensure that it does not abridge the rights of minority voters.
In its ruling, DOJ asked the state eight questions about procedures on obtaining photo voter registration cards, funding for voter education and poll worker training, and the process for casting provisional ballots when a voter has no photo ID.
The SC Progressive Network filed voter affidavits and comments with DOJ, highlighting the burdens posed on rural, poor and minority voters, and the likelihood of the law’s unequal enforcement.
DOJ raised many of the concerns the Network has about how the state will work around the burden posed by voters needing a birth certificate to get the required DMV ID card. The final version of the bill included a provision that a registered voter could obtain a photo voter registration card – pending funding – that would serve as acceptable ID without mandating a birth certificate. One camera for each county office has been funded for this purpose. The cards will be made in Columbia and mailed to voters.
In an Aug. 25 submission to DOJ, the state filed draft procedures for issuing photo voter registration cards. The plan entails issuing paper voter registration cards that a voter cannot vote with unless they have the DMV photo ID. If they don’t have the required photo ID, they must go to their county voter registration office and trade in their paper registration card for a “temporary voter registration card with a photo” that is good for 30 days. Permanent photo voter registration cards with photos will be printed by the state election office and mailed to voters.
Not only is the process burdensome to voters and election workers, it is inadequately funded. In June, $1.4 million was appropriated to cover everything from buying the cameras to mailing notices to the estimated 200,000 registered SC voters with no photo ID, to educating the public and poll workers on the new law.
As confusion and costs over the ID law mount, we should remember that no one has ever been caught impersonating another voter at the polls in SC, the sort of fraud this law was designed to prevent. Rather than protecting the sanctity of the vote, as proponents claim, the new requirement does nothing but make it harder to vote in South Carolina. For some voters, the burden will be too high.
While the state digs itself deeper into a hole of its own making, the Progressive Network will continue to educate voters and expand an organized coalition of citizens to fight this and other laws compromising voting rights in South Carolina.
If you, or someone you know has a hard time getting a state issued photo ID, download a Dept. of Justice Comment Form. Fill it out online and print it out (this form can not be saved and must be printed). Sign it and follow the mailing instructions at the end of the form.
Anyone can comment directly to the Department of Justice through email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Put in subject line: “2011-2495: Comment”. Or comments can be mailed to:
Chief, Voting Section, Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 – NWB, Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20530
(Include the submission # 2011-2495 at the top of your letter.)
Or fax comments to the Dept. of Justice at 202-616-9514 with the same heading.
Got questions? Call the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.
On July 8, the SC Progressive Network held a second press conference on the photo ID law to clear up misconceptions repeated by the governor and lawmakers, and to invite the public to submit comments to the US Dept. of Justice, which is reviewing the new law to consider whether it abridges the minority vote.
See more photos from the media event here.
Below is a sample of the media coverage the press conference generated.
Group seeks those impacted by new SC voter ID law
JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press
July 8, 2011
South Carolina voting rights advocates said Friday they are looking for voters who might not be able to have their votes counted next year under one of the nation’s toughest voter identification laws. The South Carolina Progressive Network is trying to identify some of the nearly 180,000 people who are now registered to vote but who lack the state- or federal-issued photographic identification called for under the new law. Those people would be able to cast provisional ballots, but would have to show the required identification within three days to have their votes counted. Read more:
Critics challenge ‘Voter ID’ plan
By GINA SMITH
When Delores Freelon was born in 1952, her mother could not decide on a name for her. So the space on the birth certificate for a first name was left blank. In the decades since, the incomplete birth certificate did not prevent Freelon from getting her driver’s license and voter registration card in the various states she has lived, including Texas and Louisiana.
But a measure — already passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley — will create new hurdles for Freelon and others to vote. Read more:
Group aims to block voter ID law
Opponents push for rejection by U.S. Justice Dept.
BY YVONNE WENGER
The Post and Courier
COLUMBIA — The S.C. Progressive Network issued a warning Friday to the nearly 25,000 registered voters in the tri-county area without a state-issued photo ID: You could run into trouble the next time you go to the polls. The advocacy organization is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to reject a new South Carolina law that will require all voters to carry a picture ID to cast a ballot in future elections. The state’s Republican leadership pushed for the new law, citing a need to guard against voter fraud even though there has been no substantive proof of widespread voter fraud for years in the state. Read more:
Progressives Push to Stop Implementation of Voter ID Law
BY COREY HUTCHINS
Five TV cameras, two reporters from The State, one from The Associated Press, a reporter from the Charleston Post & Courier and another from the South Carolina Radio Network, among others, swarmed around a podium in the lobby of the State House July 8, as South Carolina Progressive Network director Brett Bursey warned voters here that they might have trouble casting a ballot under a new state law. It comes during a time of a national pushback against such regulations.
By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network
You could forgive voters for being confused about South Carolina’s photo ID law. Debate on the bill went on so long their eyes glazed over years ago. It’s hard to be as charitable to Gov. Nikki Haley, who twists the truth every time she defends the law she helped push through.
The governor argues that if we need a photo ID to buy Sudafed or to board a plane, we should need one to vote. Sounds reasonable, but neither pharmacies nor airlines require a state-specific ID, as this law does. And to get a SC photo ID you need to produce a birth certificate. For some people, that’s a problem.
Finally, we are number one! Sadly, it’s in voter suppression.
These documents aren’t enough for Delores Freelon to vote.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has identified seven states as having the most restrictive photo ID requirements for voting: Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee and South Carolina. All require voters to show a photo ID, but states vary in what kind and how hard it is to get.
- In Georgia, if voters are already registered, they automatically get a new photo ID voter registration card.
- In Kansas, voters can use a driver’s license from out of state, any accredited college ID, or government-issued public assistance cards. Voters over 65 may show expired ID.
- In Texas, you can get ID to vote with your concealed weapons permit, your boating license, insurance policy or beautician’s license. Or you can vote a provisional ballot if you will incur fees in order to vote. Voters over 70 are exempt.
- In Indiana, those without a photo ID get their provisional vote counted by claiming the fees to get the required documents were a burden.
- In Wisconsin, voters can use any state driver’s license, Social Security card or student ID.
- In Tennessee, a driver’s license from any state allows you to vote.
- In South Carolina, voters must produce a birth certificate to get the state-issued photo ID required to vote. No exceptions. (If you vote a provisional ballot, that won’t count unless you present your state-issued photo ID within three days.)
Numbers are hard to project, but it is clear that some of the nearly 200,000 registered South Carolina voters who don’t have their papers in order will not be able to vote in the next election.
Even though there are no cases of the kind of fraud this law is purported to prevent, our cash-strapped state will spend at least the $700,000 supporters say it will cost to implement. Opponents say it will cost two to three times that much to educate poll workers and the public about the new law. The governor has said you can’t put a price on the sanctity of the vote.
She should tell that to Delores Freelon, a Columbia resident and registered voter who won’t be able to vote in the next election because she has a Louisiana driver’s license and can’t get her birth certificate from California in time. What about the sanctity of her vote? What about Ms. Kennedy in Sumter, whose birth certificate lists her first name as Baby Girl, meaning she’ll have to go to court to get her papers straight in order to get a photo ID? Or Larrie Butler, who was born at home in Calhoun County in 1926 and is being told he needs records from an elementary school that no longer exists in order to establish a birth certificate?
Stories like these are coming in from around the state. The SC Progressive Network, which for 15 years has been advocating for voting rights, is fielding calls from people with questions about the new law or having problems meeting the ID requirements.
The lucky ones will still get to vote, but only after jumping through hoops and paying fees at various state agencies. Some will have to amend their birth certificates by going to court, at considerable cost. People without a car, a computer or short on money are simply out of luck. The disenfranchised will be primarily seniors and the poor. Many of them will be people of color who have voted all their lives.
This quiet whittling away of the vote is no accident. It is, in fact, the point. It’s the pattern being repeated in GOP-controlled legislatures across the country.
In South Carolina, we have a brief chance to challenge this law. Because of our state’s history of disenfranchising people of color, ours is one of seven states that must get pre-clearance from the US Dept. of Justice (DOJ) before new voting laws can go into effect. Once the state attorney general files the case, DOJ has up to 60 days to consider whether the law suppresses the minority vote.
The SC Progressive Network is gathering statements to forward to DOJ documenting voters’ experiences. We need volunteers around the state to help find citizens who will have a hard time meeting the new voting requirements. If you want to help, call the Network at 803-808-3384 or see scpronet.com for details.
Is South Carolina broke? That’s what the governor and a majority of the state legislature are saying. What if the state isn’t broke, but is leaving billions in revenue out of the budget because of special-interest tax breaks?
That’s the question to be debated at a town hall meeting April 27, 7pm, at the SC State Museum, 301 Gervais St. in Columbia. The forum is free and open to the public.
With the Senate set to begin debate on the budget April 26, it’s important that the public have a say in our funding priorities. The town hall was organized because the Senate is not allowing any opportunity for public comment during its deliberations.
The town hall will debate the argument that the state is broke, and will provide striking details about the $4 billion left out of the budget through special tax breaks.
Dr. Holley Ulbrich, Professor Emerita of Economics at Clemson University, will present the case that there is sufficient revenue to fund a moral budget that reflects our values as a society. “By any measure, our state and local tax system has failed to reflect our shared values of justice, of freedom, of compassion, and of opportunity,” Ulbrich said. “Instead, we have focused on tax cuts and failed to update our antiquated revenue system, standing idly by while our tax base continues to erode.”
Dr. Mike Fanning, who has been working with Chambers of Commerce across the state to promote comprehensive tax reform, will lay out the case to lower taxes and balance the budget. “How can a state claim to be broke?” Fanning asked. “Our legislators choose to collect taxes at twice the rate needed to run government while giving away billions in special interest exemptions.”
Network Director Brett Bursey said, “The Chambers of Commerce and the Progressive Network agree that tax breaks are leaving too much money on the table and that our political leadership refuses to acknowledge that the money exists. When the public understands we’re not broke and forces the politicians to reform the tax code, then we can have a productive fight over how to spend the money.”
The Chambers would use the revenue to reduce state taxes and balance the budget. The Network wants the money to enhance the budget and fund crumbling public services. The legislature and the governor are opposed to raising revenue, and see no alternative to cutting government programs.
After a panel discussion, the public will be invited to ask questions and make comments. This is a 90-minute opportunity for the public to understand that South Carolina is not broke, and that the real debate should be over what to do with the additional revenue.
A 2011 study by the Tax Foundation found that South Carolinians have the lowest state income tax burden in the nation and rank 43rd in combined state and local taxes.
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, with 34 “first world” member nations, ranks the United States 33rd in collection of taxes, compared to the country’s wealth. Only Mexico ranked lower.
By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network
A growing number of churches, educators, health care providers, grassroots groups and professional organizations will rally in Columbia on Saturday, March 12, at 1pm at the State House to demand that lawmakers “Stop the cuts! Fund a moral budget.” The House begins debate on the budget March 15.
“Budgets are moral documents” said Rev. Brenda Kneece, Executive Minister of the SC Christian Action Council. “A civilized society chooses to do together what individuals or organizations cannot do alone: protect all and provide for the vulnerable.”
According to the recent report by the Tax Realignment Commission (TRAC), created by the legislature to reform SC tax codes — a report that was quickly shelved — South Carolina imposes one of the country’s lowest individual income tax burdens. An estimated $3.7 billion was left out of the current budget due to sales and service tax exemptions alone.
“The problem isn’t money,” said Brett Bursey, Director of the SC Progressive Network. “The problem is a political ideology that’s both anti-government and anti-taxes. Exemptions, deductions and tax credits leave enough money out of the state budget to meet our needs, with some left over for improvements. We have to send a clear message to the legislature that the race to the bottom must end, and revenue must be raised to fund critical services.
“The money is there,” Bursey said. “The political will is not.”
“We are 1,000 percent behind this rally and are urging all state employees to be there,” said SC State Employee’s Association Interim Director Joe Benton. “Further budget cuts will result in more layoffs and furloughs that hurt not only state employees and their families, but the citizens they serve.”
Jackie Hicks, President of the South Carolina Education Association, South Carolina’s oldest and largest professional association of educators, is encouraging her members to rally to protect and defend public education. “For too long, we’ve allowed legislators to shirk their duty to provide adequate, equitable and stable funding for South Carolina’s public schools and the students they serve. Our current funding is totally inadequate for the educational services our students need.”
Rev. Kneece said, “As faithful citizens we are called to come together through budgets and the taxes that fund them to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9, New International Version).”
Over the past two years, the state budget has been cut from $7.9 to $5 billion, making severe cuts to state services. Further cuts, being debated in the legislature, propose more reductions in health care services to nearly 900,000 Medicaid recipients, ending preventative care, AIDs drug programs, aid for needy children; more teacher’s jobs lost, larger classes, higher tuition; the end of SCETV and the Arts Commission – just to name a few of the casualties.
Life will be harder, with fewer opportunities, especially for the 25 percent of our children living in poverty.
Initial Sponsors: SC AFL-CIO • SC Christian Action Council • SC Education Association • S.C. HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Task Force • SC NAACP • SC Progressive Network • SC State Employees Association • Ties That Bind
For more information, see scpronet.com, email email@example.com or call 803-808-3384.
Dr. Holley Ulbrich
Senior Scholar, Strom Thurmond Institute
A budget is a moral document. It expresses our values and our priorities as South Carolinians. It reminds us that each of us, four million plus South Carolinians, has needs to be met and gifts to offer the world.
One of our most deeply held American values is justice. We try to do that work of justice and compassion as individuals and through congregations and other private organizations. But the task is enormous. These scattered and individual efforts are not enough. Fifteen percent of South Carolinians lives in poverty—the 9th highest rate in the country.
Our underfunded schools are failing to develop our children’s talents and prepare them to become self-supporting, contributing members of society. We are not taking on those reciprocal responsibilities to one another as fellow citizens of South Carolina. The budget is an expression of our obligations to one another, and at present our budget demonstrates a lack of commitment, a failure to pay more than lip service to our shared values.
To treat everyone justly and fairly, we need to provide them with both freedom and opportunity. Freedom is not just freedom to, it is also freedom from. The four freedoms—freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear—are all essential to human flourishing. Our children will not have that freedom and opportunity without providing them an adequate education for a demanding 21st century economy.
Those who cannot earn enough on their own—the disabled, the sick, the elderly, the children in single-parent homes where working mothers can’t earn enough to meet their needs—do not have freedom from want and fear, or opportunity to escape from poverty. Prisoners who are overcrowded and lack access to exercise and education have little or no opportunity to re-enter society as productive human beings leading meaningful lives.
The failure to maintain the state’s infrastructure, especially transportation infrastructure, will make it increasingly difficult to attract and retain business firms to provide employment opportunities for our workers, who still suffer from one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
Yet our state General Fund spending per person, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was 10 years ago-$1,156,compared to $1,229 in the 1999-2000 budget. The 2010 budget per person was at the 1984 level in constant dollars. We are asking our teachers, our prisons, our colleges and universities, our health services and public safety officers to do more with less, and do it with 21st century technology.
Is there another way? Yes.
The budget is a moral document not only on the spending side, which displays our priorities for all to see, but also on the revenue side. How much are we able and willing to contribute to meeting the needs of our fellow citizens? By any measure, our state and local tax system has failed to reflect our shared values of justice, of freedom, of compassion, and of opportunity. Instead, we have focused on tax cuts and failed to update our antiquated revenue system, standing idly by while our tax base continues to erode.
Taxes are low in South Carolina, and getting lower. South Carolina ranks 47th out of 51 states (including the District of Columbia) in taxes as a percent of income and 51st in taxes per capita. Yet low taxes have not succeeded in the supposed goal of attracting and retaining industry, because business firms care about more than taxes. Business location studies show that firms care about an educated work force, an adequate transportation system, a consumer market that can afford to buy their products and services, and quality of life for the firm’s employees.
South Carolina’s sales tax system is eroding rapidly. One factor in that erosion is tax cuts over the last 10 years. Changes in the income tax that allow unincorporated business to file at the same 5% rate as corporations and eliminate the bottom bracket (which affects all taxpayers) on the individual income tax have cost the state more than $200 million a year. State-funded property tax relief has been a major drain on the state’s revenue.
The homestead exemption for the elderly and the original relief on the first $100,000 of owner-occupied property takes is one drain on state revenue. The shortfall in revenue from the extra penny of sales tax to fund additional relief to homeowners under Act 388 is a second source of drain on the General Fund- $124 million in the current fiscal year. Together, these three state-funded sources of property tax relief are reducing revenue available for public services by about $546 million a year. Added to the two income tax changes, these tax breaks just about cover the shortfall in the current budget.
In addition to the legislative changes above, there are some problems with the revenue system that slow the growth of revenue so that it cannot keep pace with growth of population and inflation. Growth of sales tax revenue lags behind growth of personal income, in part because South Carolina has failed to follow the lead of other states in responding to the change in how households spend their money. In 1970, 45% of consumer spending was for tangible goods, which is the base of our sales tax. Today that share has fallen to 30%.
The average state taxes 57 kinds of services; South Carolina taxes only 36. The sales tax base needs to be updated to reflect the change in how we spend our money, as the Tax Realignment Commission has recommended.
We also need to address updating our excise taxes and revenue losses from such tax breaks as the sales tax cap on cars, boats, motorcycles and airplanes.
The income tax also has some structural problems. Only about 40% of South Carolinians pay any income tax. Some of us are too poor to pay income tax, but some are too old. South Carolina has the most senior-citizen-friendly income tax in the nation, according to a Georgia State study a few years ago. A family of two adults over age 65 that can take advantage of pension provisions, Social Security and the age-related deduction could have an income of more than $60,000 a year before having to pay any income tax. There are also some 53 credits available to reduce one’s income tax liability.
Unlike spending, tax breaks never come up for a scheduled annual review. They just continue from year to year, eroding the revenue base that needs to be shored up in order to continue to fund essential public services. The covenant that South Carolinians have with each other includes not only the services that we wish to ensure for all citizens but also the commitment to pay for them. Our legislators need to look closely every year at tax provisions that may have made sense 10 or 20 years ago but are never subject to review and reconsideration.
This document prepared in collaboration with Dr. Holley Ulbrich, Senior Scholar, Strom Thurmond Institute; Alumni Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics, Clemson University