Save the buses! Vote YES for the penny Nov. 6

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

When was the last time you rode a bus? About 6,000 of your Richland County neighbors rely on public transit every day. That’s down from over 8,000 two years ago. Funding for the buses has been cut 40% over the past two years, routes have been eliminated and wait times have doubled or quadrupled for some riders.

Buses in the Columbia-area have not evolved from the “plantation transportation system” that was designed to get low-wage workers to jobs that don’t pay enough for them to own a car. Back when Jim Crow ran the system, the last buses out of town left before dark. Today, the last bus is at 6:30pm. Few buses run on Saturdays, and none run on Sundays or holidays.

At a DART appreciation rally Oct. 25, Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders listens to former Columbia police chief Charles Austin talk about his son, who relies on DART to get to work.

The service is so poor, who would want to ride the bus in Richland County? Sadly, some people have no choice.

David Brown, a 48-year-old laid-off worker, rides the bus to computer classes at a tech school. The round trip that used to take one hour now take up to four hours.

Leslie Goodson lost her job when service was cut on weekends. Not having transportation wasn’t a good enough reason for Leslie to get unemployment benefits. She’s still looking for a job that conforms with the bus schedule.

Adrian Metso is a manager at a manufacturing facility out on Two Notch where the buses have quit running. Since bus services were cut, he has had to lay off three workers who were chronically late because they lacked transportation.

The Disability Action Center has a client who wanted desperately to get a job, not easy because he is blind and deaf. They finally found him a job at a restaurant on a bus line — just before the service was cut. He lost his job and his dream of independence.

Richland County voters have an opportunity to make a real change at the ballot box this year. It won’t be voting for any candidate, who might lose or let you down. It will be voting to increase the county’s sales tax by a penny to save the bus system in the Midlands.

One could argue that there should be a better way to fund public transit than through a sales tax that hits the poor the hardest, but there hasn’t been a viable plan to sustain the buses since SCE&G quit running the system 10 years ago.

The SC Progressive Network lobbied Richland County Council to raise a smaller sales tax just for the buses. Our efforts saw the funding for the buses increased by $30 million, but Council voted to go with a plan to put 63% of the penny towards roads, 29% to buses and 8% for pathways.

Council was convinced that the measure wouldn’t pass unless there was something in it for the majority of taxpayers who don’t use the buses. Some 42% of the money is projected to come from people who don’t live in Richland County.

Of the billion dollars the penny tax is projected to raise over the next 22 years, the buses will get $301 million. The 29% dedicated to the buses and the DART system for disabled riders cannot be used for roads or green spaces. Riders and communities need to organize to insure that public transit expands in ways that meet their needs.

If the penny passes, cuts to services over the past two years will be quickly restored. Within the next few years:

  • fixed routes will be expanded
  • wait times reduced to 15-30 minutes
  • hours of service extended
  • Sunday and holiday service added
  • DART service expanded
  • a new transit station and shelters will be built
  • traffic congestion will be reduced through Park-and-Ride services
  • more riders will mean more revenue, more jobs and a stronger economy

There is no long-term source of funding for buses or DART. If the penny does not pass, the system will run out of funds on June 30, 2013.

Richland County voters need to vote “YES” TWICE for the penny tax. The penny sales tax will appear on Pages 5 and 6 on your Richland County voting machine as Local Question #1 and Local Question #2.

A “YES” vote on # 1 will allow Richland County to collect a penny sales tax for transportation for the next 22 years. A “YES” vote on # 2 will allow the County to issue a bond to immediately begin working on the projects.

Let’s fund a transit system people will want to use. Vote “YES” TWICE for the penny tax on Nov. 6!

To help Save the Buses, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or

Network needs volunteers to help voters on Election Day

The SC Progressive Network is working with the Election Protection Coalition to help voters with election-related problems between now and Nov. 6.

We are training volunteers from across the state to respond to requests for assistance from voters on Election Day.

The Election Protection Coalition is supported nationally by most major nonpartisan organizations and is managed by the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law. Our state partners are the Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., League of Women Voters of South Carolina, and the ACLU of South Carolina.

The National Hotline number is 866-OUR-VOTE, and in Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA. Signs with this number have been made available to all of South Carolina’s 2,183 precincts.

In 2008, we fielded nearly 1,400 calls on Election Day from South Carolina voters. Most of the calls were from confused voters, and the problems were easy to fix. Other calls required on-the-ground follow-up at precincts or county election offices.

Columbia training: Oct. 30, 5:30pm, Room 138, USC Law School
Charleston training: Nov. 2, noon-2pm, Room 333, (3rd floor) Charleston School of Law, 385 Meeting. St.

To RSVP for training, or to arrange to be trained at another time, call the Network at 803-808-3384.

Download the Election Protection Hotline sign here.

Network holds rally to support DART riders and urge voters to pass penny tax

Those who stand to lose the most if the penny sales tax to fund public transit isn’t passed are the DART riders, who have already suffered 40% cuts to services. At a press conference Oct. 24 hosted by the SC Progressive Network, Dori Tempio from the Disability Action Center asked voters to weigh in on this critical issue Nov. 6. For more information, see or call 803-808-3384.

See more photos from the rally here.

Read about it in The State.

SC Equality welcomes new ED

South Carolina Equality, the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political advocacy and civil rights organization – and longtime member of the SC Progressive Network – has announced that Ryan Wilson of Columbia has been appointed Executive Director.

Ryan comes to SC Equality after having served as the President of both South Carolina Pride and the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center. He served five years on the board of South Carolina Pride, with two years as President. During his time at SC Pride the attendance grew from 5,000 to over 8,000, along with increased sponsorship and grant funding. Most recently, Ryan has served as the President of the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center in Columbia, where he has doubled its operational budget in just one year through new grants, as well as increasing its programming for glbt South Carolinians.

Originally from Baltimore, Ryan moved to South Carolina in 2001 to attend Clemson University. While a student, he served as Co-President of the Clemson Gay-Straight Alliance. In 2005, Ryan moved to Columbia as a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. During this time, he also was the University’s Safe Zone Ally Coordinator.

Upon graduation with a Masters of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs, he was employed at USC as the Sexual Health Program Coordinator, overseeing Student Health Services, supervising the Safe Zone Ally program, and providing programming for LGBTQ students. For the past two years, he has served as Training Coordinator for the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a statewide non-profit that supports organizations serving our state’s youth, where he has managed several grant funded projects.

Jeff Ayers, Chair of the SC Equality Board, said “Ryan’s strong qualifications and familiarity with the needs of the glbt community in South Carolina make him ready to assume this position. Our Board is excited about working with him because of his commitment and enthusiasm for the work of securing equal civil and human rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians and their families.”

Wilson remarked that “I’m looking forward to being able to advance SC Equality’s important legislative and advocacy work. We have the opportunity help more communities pass non-discrimination ordinances and to see a strong anti-bullying bill enacted by the General Assembly. I am committed to a South Carolina where equal means everyone.”

Network pushes penny tax to save Midlands buses

What’s wrong with our public transportation? Richland County’s bus and DART (Dial-A-Ride-Transit for the disabled) service has been reduced 40% in the past two years. Waits on some routes are up to an hour, and other routes have been cut completely. Buses stop running at 6:30pm, and there is no Sunday or holiday service.

There is no long-term source of funding for buses or DART, and the system will run out of funds June 30, 2013. The system is so bad that people don’t want to use it. Sadly, some people have no choice.

Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey and Bishop Shirley Raiford work Columbia’s downtown bus station educating riders about the penny sales tax.

What can fix our transit problems? On Nov. 6, Richland County will vote on increasing the sales tax by one penny to fund public transit, road improvements and pedestrian pathways. The tax, which will last for 22 years, will raise over $300 million for public transit.

The money will:

  • allow fixed routes to be restored and expanded.
  • reduce wait times to 15-30 minutes
  • extend hours of service
  • restore Sunday service
  • expand DART service
  • fund the building of new transit station and shelters
  • bring more riders and reduce traffic congestion through Park-and-Ride services

Vote YES TWICE on the ballot for the penny sales tax on Nov. 6. The penny sales tax will appear on pages 5 and 6 on your voting machine as Local Question #1 and Local Question #2. A “YES” vote on # 1 will allow Richland County to collect a penny sales tax for transportation for the next 22 years. Download sample ballot here.

42% of the money is projected to come from people who don’t live in Richland County. Each project gets a set percentage of the money raised that cannot be transferred between projects. Buses will get 29%, that is estimated to yield $301 million.

To volunteer to help Save the Buses, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or Volunteers are meeting every Wednesday at 2pm at the Network office, 2025 Marion St., to make assignments and hand out educational material. Download a flyer, and post at your business, school or church.

Court rules that SC voter ID law does not, in fact, require photo ID

By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

Following the federal court ruling that approved a substantially modified version of South Carolina’s voter ID law, SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey called the venture “very expensive theater.”

The ruling begins by noting “South Carolina’s new (photo ID) law…does not require a photo ID to vote.”

While Gov. Nikki Haley crowed, “This is not just a win for South Carolina, this is a win for our country,” and state Attorney General Alan Wilson hailed the ruling as a vindication of Republican state legislators, the law the court approved is not the one that went to Washington.

District Court Judge Bates said in his opinion, “Act 54 as now pre-cleared is not the Act 54 that was enacted in May 2011,” when signed by Gov. Haley.

While the Court acknowledged “an absence of recorded incidents of in-person voter fraud in South Carolina,” it found that “preventing voter fraud and increasing electoral confidence are legitimate” reasons for the law.

“After several years of divisive and racially charged debate on this unnecessary law,” Bursey said, “after $2 million in taxpayer money spent defending it, and several million more dollars to implement it, our photo ID law will not require voters to have a photo ID to vote.”

The original law allowed a voter to claim a “reasonable impediment” to not having a photo ID, and left it to the county board of elections to determine whether the reason was legitimate. Today’s ruling said that the reason for not having a photo ID “is to be determined by the individual voter, not the poll manager or county board. So long as the reason given by the voter is not a lie, an individual voter may express any one of of the many conceivable reasons why he or she has not obtained a photo ID…voters with the non-photo voter registration card…may still vote without a photo ID.”

Judge Baker wrote, “It is understandable that the [Dept. of Justice] and the intervenors [including the SC Progressive Network] in this case, would raise serious concerns about South Carolina’s voter photo ID law as it then stood.”

The governor’s victory dance notwithstanding, Judge Baker concluded, “One cannot doubt the vital function that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played here. Without the review process under the voting Rights Act South Carolina’s voter photo ID law certainly would have been more restrictive.”

Calling it political theater, Bursey said, “The grandstanding on this issue by the governor and the Republican majority of the legislature comes at a very real cost to taxpayers, voters and election workers. It is partisan politics at its worst.”

The law will go into effect in 2013.

Delores Freelon has been jumping through hoops for more than a year trying to obtain a SC photo ID. In August, she testified in front of the three-judge panel in Washington, DC.

Network Director makes case for voter-owned elections

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.