South Carolina’s legislative session can seem endless. Running from the first Tuesday of January until the first Thursday of June – 21 weeks – the state’s session is the second longest in the Southeast and the 14th longest in the country. The median session length among all other states is 16 weeks. Our General Assembly sits from January to June or about 143 calendar days a year, and that doesn’t include the time lawmakers meet in committees virtually all year round.
Some contend that the legislature needs a longer session in order to give the General Assembly time to perform its most important function – passing a budget. Yet in recent years legislators have left much of the budget debate until the session’s last few weeks, and have regularly gone into extended sine die session to finalize a budget.
In any case, the budget should take far less time than it does. Members routinely ignore the state law mandating the House and Senate appropriation committees to hold joint open hearings on the executive budget – a law that, if followed, would cut the current budget process in half. Instead lawmakers begin the budget in a dizzying array of subcommittee hearings, making it impossible for the public and media to follow and turning the state budget into a gigantic grab bag full of miscellaneous favors to localities rather than a rational and coherent spending plan for the entire state.
Occasionally legislative leaders will claim that the reason we need to shorten session is to “save taxpayer dollars.” But although shortening the session would cut down on lawmakers’ state-funded travel and lodging expenses, and although a shorter session would require fewer resources in the State House, these “savings” would amount to a few hundred thousand dollars – microscopic by the standards of a $26 billion state budget. (Those few hundred thousand dollars wouldn’t be “saved” by taxpayers; they would merely be spent in some other part of state government.)
So what is the reason we ought to shorten South Carolina’s legislative session? There are actually two reasons: first, to limit the power of the legislature and, second, the influence of the special interests that feed on it.
On lobbying, a lengthier session gives lobbyists and consultants more time with legislators in Columbia. And the more time lobbyists have with legislators, the better chance those lobbyists will have to both (a) persuade legislators to pass special favors for particular groups, and (b) persuade lawmakers to kill needed reforms those groups perceive as harmful to themselves.
A few numbers can provide insight into the size of the lobbying machine at the State House. In 2014, the State Ethics Commission reported 389 registered lobbyists, 14 of them representing public agencies/institutions. The commission also reported 550 lobbyist principals, again 14 of those principals being public agencies/institutions. In 2014 alone, total income for all lobbyists was $15.7 million.
Clearly there are a great many organizations willing to spend large amounts of money to bend legislators – and thus state law – to their purposes.
And the longer session is, the more attractive investment in a lobbyist becomes. The more time lobbyists have with legislators, the better chance those lobbyists will have of convincing legislators to either pass bills favored by their clients – generally, special interests – or amend other bills to suit the interests of those clients.
But of course, special interests by definition seek advantage for themselves, not the good of the state as a whole – whatever they may say or believe about their motives. Consider, from just the last two years, a solar leasing bill (S.1189) turned into another avenue for monopolistic utilities to hike prices on consumers, and a ride-sharing legalization bill (H.3525) used to impose nearly all existing taxi regulations on ride sharing companies.
On legislative power, the longer lawmakers remain in session, the more functions of government they arrogate to themselves. South Carolina government is dominated by the legislature precisely because, over time, the legislature has assumed many properly executive powers. Our legislature controls the judiciary through nominations and appointments for judgeships, and influences the executive branch by making more than 420 appointments to executive boards and commissions.
A few of the most powerful boards and commissions controlled by the legislature include: the Public Service Commission (which regulates utilities), the Joint Transportation Review Committee (which in effect appoints members of the Department of Transportation commission), and the State Board of Education (which sets public school policy and helps determine state educational standards). Some of the legislature’s members also serve directly on boards, such as the State Fiscal Accountability Authority and the Infrastructure Bank Board, which perform executive functions.
And just as a longer session contributes to a large number of lobbyists, the expansive powers of the legislature have led to the creation of an enormous legislative staff. The Nerve recently reported that as of March 2015 the House of Representatives employed 82 full time staffers, while the Senate employed 119. Nor is that all. In 2015 the House employed 37 legislative aides at an hourly rate, and had the option of employing up to 144 pages.
The total annual payroll for listed staffers in the General Assembly ranges from $12.3 to $12.7 million. Once again, a lengthy session has fostered the growth of legislative power, and the growth of legislative power has necessitated the creation of a burgeoning class of employees to meet the demands of that growth in power.
We watched this dynamic play out recently when legislation creating the Department of Administration gave the legislature new oversight powers over the executive branch, which in turn required the creation of more staff to ensure that those new powers were executed.
There are still some in the General Assembly pushing for reform. Lawmakers filed three bills in 2015 to reduce the length of session. The best by far is S.123, which would reduce session by eight weeks in odd-numbered years and twelve weeks in even-numbered years. It would also create a biennial state budget rather than the current annual budget; in other words, each budget would cover not one but two years of spending, as is done in Texas and elsewhere. The other bills, S.267 and H.3014, are weaker, reducing session by four and five weeks respectively.
The latter of these, H.3014, recently passed the House with near unanimous votes, but it comes with the drawback of requiring a constitutional amendment (it would change session’s start date, which is set by the constitution). Even if it were passed by the legislature and approved by the electorate, implementation would be delayed for years.
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On Tuesday, October 20, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee met to discuss and take testimony on S.868, a bill that would grant the power of eminent domain to a company constructing any kind of pipeline. Eminent domain, remember, is a power held by governments – not private companies – to expropriate private property for public use. The bill now in the General Assembly, however, would require private pipeline companies to go through a permitting process with both the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) before the power of eminent domain could be exercised.
It bears emphasizing that, with or without a permitting process, this is the first time state law would explicitly allow a non-utility private company to seize private property.
In order to obtain the necessary permit from the PSC a pipeline company would have to demonstrate that its proposed project serves the “public convenience and necessity.” The state constitution allows the legislature to define what constitutes a public use, and S.868 defines it in the vaguest way possible: “a use that is vital to the welfare of the people of this State.” In S.868 legislators have chosen to devolve this power to state agencies, like the PSC, that are even less accountable then they are.
Throughout the subcommittee meeting the bill’s sponsors denied they were expanding the powers of eminent domain. This despite a recent opinion issued by the Attorney General explicitly casting doubt on the idea that oil pipeline companies can exercise eminent domain powers under current law.
In other words: Oil pipeline companies do not (at least according to the AG) have eminent domain power; S.868 would establish a permitting process whereby oil pipeline companies could attain eminent domain power; therefore S.868 would, in fact, expand eminent domain power.
The short answer to that question is: It’s vague.
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Many South Carolinians have volunteered their efforts to help in the recovery effort after the disastrous floods of early October; state and local governments have also contributed labor and resources. The largest player by far, however, is the federal government.
Before the rain had fully stopped the President had declared a state of disaster in much of South Carolina, thereby making the state eligible for millions, potentially billions, in federal disaster relief funds. While citizens and state officials are no doubt genuinely grateful for this assistance, media reports have left unclear the process by which these funds are drawn down and the conditions tied to their acceptance.
How does the state become eligible for these funds? Through what programs are these funds distributed? And what must the state provide in return for this federal largesse?
To be eligible for federal disaster funding, the governor must make a request to the president via the regional Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) office, and the president must issue a Presidential Disaster Declaration. The governor’s request is supposed to contain a preliminary damage assessment carried out by state and federal officials to estimate the extent of the disaster and its impact. The request is also supposed to provide information on the amount of state and local resources that have been or will be committed to disaster relief, and provide an estimate of the type and amount of federal assistance needed. Finally, the governor must certify that state and local governments will comply with any federal cost sharing requirements attached to federal disaster funds.
In the event of an imminent or actual catastrophic emergency, the governor is permitted to make an expedited request that may not include specific estimates of damage or the amount needed, but should still outline the anticipated impacts, and categories of needs resulting from the emergency.
Gov. Nikki Haley appears to have made an expedited request. News reports have indicated Gov. Haley made a verbal request for the president to declare a Major Disaster in South Carolina, a request that was granted in just around seven hours.
The president’s Disaster Declaration will stipulate just what forms of federal assistance the affected areas are eligible to receive. President Obama’s recent Disaster Declaration for South Carolina has made affected areas of the state eligible for all three major categories of federal disaster assistance: individual assistance, public assistance, and hazard mitigation.
Once the president has declared a Major Disaster or Emergency, the governor and the FEMA region IV (southeast office) director are supposed to negotiate a federal/state agreement on federal assistance. The agreement should:
If this federal-state agreement exists for South Carolina’s recent disaster, it does not appear to be publicly available.
As the name suggests, individual assistance programs are available, upon application, to individual citizens in declared disaster areas. Forms of public assistance currently available in South Carolina include:
The majority of these programs are federally funded, but as indicated above some require a state cost share. One such program is grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs, also termed “other needs assistance” by FEMA. Twenty-five percent of other needs assistance payments must be funded by the state.
While the amount of loans and unemployment distributed thus far is unclear, FEMA does provide a running total of approved spending for housing and other needs assistance. As of November 15 the totals were as follows:
All of the individual assistance programs available in South Carolina are administered by the federal agencies (indicated above: FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Farm Service Agency, and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) that receive, and approve/reject applications for assistance. State assistance with these programs is provided by the State Individual Assistance Officer/Coordinator (IAO), an employee of the State Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), itself a division of the Office of the Adjutant General.
A note about the adjutant general’s office under which the IAO operates. The adjutant general’s office was recently made a non-elected position. Beginning in 2018, the office will be appointed by the governor, although the adjutant general’s term will be non-coterminous with the governor’s, making the position quasi-autonomous from the chief executive, and the General Assembly has not yet set the position’s terms of office. Thus the adjutant general is presently accountable to no one but the General Assembly, meaning in effect to no one at all.
The State IAO helps coordinate the implementation of individual assistance programs with the agencies responsible for administering the programs. The State IAO is also responsible for coordinating with local and federal officials to establish and operate Disaster Recovery Centers (or DRCs, where individuals can apply for assistance) in the impacted areas, and reducing duplication of efforts by state and federal agencies and private disaster relief organizations.
Finally, the State IAO is tasked with maintaining and providing daily reports of assistance to the State Coordinating Officer (SCO) and Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR). The SCO and GAR are each appointed by the governor to act as the governor’s representative/assistant in matters of state and federal disaster assistance respectively.
Public assistance programs are available to state agencies, local governments, Indian tribes, and certain Private Non-Profit (PNP) organizations (e.g. medical facilities, custodial care facilities, educational facilities, and emergency facilities). These programs provide reimbursements for emergency and permanent work, two categories that are themselves divided into sub-categories.
Emergency work – which must be completed within six months of the disaster declaration, subject to extensions of up to 6 months being granted by the GAR – includes:
Permanent work – which must be completed within 18 months of the disaster declaration, subject to extensions of up to 30 months being granted by the GAR – includes:
Typically state and local governments are responsible for 25 percent of the costs associated with projects approved for public assistance. Private non-profits that receive public assistance are responsible for the cost share associated with their specific projects. Small projects (cost estimates under $120,000) are eligible to receive public assistance payments based on estimated costs as soon as their project is federally approved. Large projects (cost estimates over $120,000) are funded on actual documented costs. On large projects, reimbursement payments are made as costs are incurred and documented. Federal assistance payments do not flow directly to applicants but are held in a federal account until the state (grantee) is ready to award the grants to the applicants (sub grantees) along with the state’s portion of the cost-share.
As of November 15, FEMA reports obligated dollars to South Carolina under the public assistance program are as follows:
Note: Although no data on funds currently obligated for permanent work projects is available, as of October 21 the federal government had approved at least six South Carolina counties for all forms of public assistance including permanent work projects.
To repeat, public assistance programs are administered by a combination of state and federal officials and employees. The Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR) is tasked with developing a Public Assistance Grant Agreement that governs the request for and use of federal public assistance funds in a specific disaster.
It’s the responsibility of the state Public Assistance Officer (PAO) – another employee of the SCEMD – to coordinate all infrastructure matters with the Federal Infrastructure Branch Chief and the federal PAO, and to further establish the State Public Assistance Office. The State Public Assistance Office is staffed with officials and employees tasked with providing assistance to public assistance applicants; acting as liaisons with FEMA and the federal Public Assistance Coordinator; coordinating federal reimbursement to eligible applicants; and maintaining accurate accounting of all financial transactions.
The Public Assistance Office is to administer all public assistance grants, agreements, and contracts.
Officials of FEMA, particularly the federal Public Assistance Officer and the Public Assistance Coordinator approve or reject public assistance applications.
The hazard mitigation grant program (HMGP) is another form of public assistance offered by FEMA in presidentially declared disaster states. Like other forms of public assistance, eligible applicants for HMGP funds include state agencies, local governments, Indian tribes and certain Private Non-Profit (PNP) organizations.
HMGP funds can be used on projects that will reduce or eliminate losses from future disasters. The projected savings provided by an HMGP project should outweigh its implementation costs. Some examples of potential HMGP projects provided by FEMA include:
Again, the state is responsible for 25 percent of the eligible costs of each project funded by hazard mitigation payments. Overall hazard mitigation funds are capped by the federal government based on the amount of other forms of federal assistance received by a disaster state. HMGP funds are based on a percentage (15 percent of the first $2 billion and 10 percent from $2 to $4 billion) of the total federal share of funds received by the state as a result of a presidential disaster declaration.
It’s unclear just how much South Carolina has received in hazard mitigation funds so far.
The South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) is responsible for the application, award, grant management, and closeout of the HMGP. More specifically, the State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) appointed by the governor but who works as a part of SCEMD, is responsible for implementation and management of the HMGP. The federal side of the program is managed by the Federal Hazard Mitigation Officer, the SHMO’s federal counterpart.
SCEMD and the SHMO review and prioritize HMGP project applications before sending them to FEMA for review and approval. Similar to public assistance project funding, once a project is approved FEMA will award the HMGP funds to the applicant (typically the state), which will then disburse the funds to sub-applicants (generally local governments). Any work begun prior to FEMA approval is ineligible for funding.
In addition to funds from FEMA’s public assistance program South Carolina roads are eligible for disaster funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief Program (ERP). In order to be eligible for the program, disaster damage to highways must be “severe, occur over a wide area, and result in unusually high expenses to the highway agency.” Federal funding from the ERP will cover 100 percent of the costs of emergency repair work accomplished in the first 180 days after the disaster occurs. After this period, permanent repair work funded through the program is funded at a 90 percent federal cost share for interstate highways, and 80 percent federal cost share for all other highways.
Funding for this program is limited, since the regular federal appropriation for the ERP is $100 million annually. However, Congress has periodically provided additional funds for the ERP through supplemental appropriations.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has already received $5 million in funding from the ERP. As with most other federal assistance programs, costs are first incurred on the state level and then reimbursed by the federal government.
SCDOT must file a notice of intent to request ER funds with the FHWA Division Office located in the state. A full application including a comprehensive list of all eligible project sites and repair costs must be filed by SCDOT with the FHWA within two years of the date of the disaster. Officials with the FHWA approve or reject SCDOT’s application.
Between all the federal aid programs South Carolina and its citizens are eligible to receive and the 25 percent state cost share for most of these programs, the state could amass a massive tab quickly. So: what state funds are currently available to either meet federal matching requirements or for the state to pay damage costs on its own?
The first source is the surplus left over after the state ended its fiscal year on June 30. State newspapers and the Comptroller General reported $87 million in surplus revenues available after the state closed its books for Fiscal Year 2015. According to the Comptroller General’s reports this surplus total includes $19.7 million carried over from the Contingency Reserve Fund.
Beyond this influx, the Comptroller General reports that, as of the start of fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015), state government has $319 million in the General Reserve Fund, the state’s one true rainy day fund. The Comptroller General also informs us that state agencies carried forward $415 million in unspent appropriations into fiscal year 2016.
For transportation specifically, the state might consider transferring some of the $255 million currently budgeted for the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) – which only funds road expansions – to SCDOT where they can be used for repair work.
Further, every year SCDOT uses state funds to draw down federal highway dollars for expansionary projects. This year, the department might consider using some of this money to match federal emergency funds, or to fund repairs by itself instead. The Policy Council estimates SCDOT used roughly $180 million in the just completed fiscal year to draw down federal funds – funds that cannot be used for maintenance, and that are ineligible for use on half of South Carolina’s roads.
It is also worth noting that $31 million of the $415 million in General Fund revenue carried over by state agencies belongs to SCDOT. And these reserves do not include Other Fund revenue, which makes up the majority of SCDOT’s budget. The Nerve reports that going into fiscal year 2013 – the last year for which records were publicly available – SCDOT carried over $93 million in other funds.
The bottom line: Rather than rack up an enormous obligation with federal matching funds that can only be used according to strict federal guidelines – and that may well be misallocated by a structurally bewildering web of bureaucracies – South Carolina lawmakers ought to begin pursuing options to fund emergency needs with state dollars.
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Our guide to the 2015 legislative session – The Best and Worst of the General Assembly – has just been published. It’s the only publication of its kind in the state. We examine every major bill, explain what it would do in plain English, and assess it according to one simple criterion: whether or not it would advance your personal and economic freedom.
We think this year’s guide is the best so far. The bill summaries are crisp and efficient, the layout is clear and logical, and the graphic design is terrific.
If you’re a member of the Policy Council, we’ve mailed you a copy already. (If you’re not, become a member here.) The online version, though, has at least one advantage over the hard copy: hyperlinks. There are links to the text of bills, relevant articles, and – most popular of all – vote tallies. Readers can see who sponsored it and, when there was a floor vote, who voted for and against it.
To access it, click here.
We hope you find this year’s guide helpful.]]>
If more money were the answer to the state’s infrastructure woes, the topic would hardly be worth debating. The real trouble with South Carolina’s roads, though, isn’t a lack of money. It’s a lack – indeed, a total lack – of citizen control or influence on road funding.
How do we know more money won’t produce better roads?
Consider the fact that since 2012 the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) total ratified budget (from all three parts of the budget – General Fund, federal funds, Other Funds) has grown by $708 million. That’s about 54 percent when adjusted for inflation. Further, the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s (STIB) budget has grown from $50 million in 2014 to $155 million in 2015, and hit a whopping $255 million in the current fiscal year.
The state’s transportation budget is growing, then – more money has been put into it – with no discernible improvement.
The common misconception by proponents of a gas tax increase is that the state needs more overall revenue. That’s not the same as supposing we need to spend more of what we have on repair. Consider: in the last fiscal year less than $300 million of the just under $2 billion in transportation funding was free to be devoted to road maintenance anywhere in the state road system.
In reality, though, no one has any idea if the state needs more overall revenue. Why? Because the current system of prioritization and funding of projects is not transparent. For example, 642 payments were made from the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) to the home county of Florence Sen. Hugh Leatherman – he’s also a member of the STIB board – from 2010 to March of this year. Under our current system, it’s simply impossible to know if these monies were used on the most pressing transportation needs in the state. It seems extremely unlikely, but the truth is that there is no way to be sure.
And indeed some lawmakers have even complained that they don’t know what projects the DOT has prioritized according to Act 114 (a law they passed in 2007 that “restructured” the Department of Transportation).
Lawmakers made a gesture at transparency in the 2015-16 budget by inserting a proviso requiring the project priority list to be made publicly available.
By itself, though, that will accomplish very little as long as the underlying problem remains the same – namely that the lion’s share of power over the DOT belongs to two lawmakers for whom the great majority of South Carolinians can’t vote for and have never heard of. Consider:
No reasonable and unbiased person would look at this system – a system dominated by a few people who can’t be held accountable for the total outcome – and conclude that its woes must be due to a lack of money.
Clearly reform must come before any consideration of revenue. But how?
Once these reforms are achieved, lawmakers may begin talking about taking more money from taxpayers and putting it into the transportation system. Not until then.
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The public deserves confidence that judges rule independently of the legislature whose laws they judge. South Carolina is the only state in the nation in which the legislature unilaterally appoints judges even when vacancies arise. The governor should nominate judges, with only advice and consent from the Senate.
South Carolina lawmakers control the executive branch through a complicated web of boards and commissions, to which lawmakers appoint members to run state agencies instead of allowing the governor to run them. The legislature has further diluted the governor’s responsibility by doling out power to multiple constitutional officers (the Comptroller General, Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, Secretary of State, and so on), thus creating little executive fiefdoms that properly belong in the governor’s cabinet.
Our state has one of the nation’s longest legislative sessions: a system that favors career politicians over citizen-legislators, and empowers lobbyists and special interests over taxpayers. Legislative sessions should be limited to 90 calendar days or 45 legislative days, every other year, forcing lawmakers to limit their activity to citizen priorities.
Corruption is virtually guaranteed when politicians have the power to strike secret deals with private companies using public money. Taxpayers deserve full transparency in all incentive deals – including public applications for subsidies, public debate on the merits of deals, and full reporting on investment “return.”
House and Senate members police their own ethics violations – and much of the process is kept private. Legislators should be governed by the same agency that governs other public officials, and details of hearings should be publicly reported.
The public has no way to ensure that lawmakers don’t personally profit from legislation on which they vote. Members of Congress and elected officials in other states report their income – and so should South Carolina politicians.
State agencies should organize their transactions and expenditures to be accessible to the public rather than charging taxpayers double for “labor” costs. And there’s certainly no justification for lawmakers exempting themselves from the state’s Freedom of Information law.
The law requires the governor to write “the” budget and the legislature to hold “joint open hearings” to debate it. Compliance with that law would allow the public to engage in the budget process in real time. In addition, lawmakers should submit the budget in a simple format that is accessible to citizens online.
Over the last thirty years or more, well-meaning reformers have tried valiantly to improve educational results within public education systems. Prominent among their reforms have been increasing education funding and expanded pre-school programs, but these efforts have failed to live up to their promise. The one reform that has produced impressive results is a body of reforms collectively known as “school choice.”
The chief idea behind these reforms is this: Expand educational options and give parents the prerogative to choose from among those options. The most successful of these reforms have involved vouchers and/or tax credit scholarships. If parents can’t find an educational option that meets the needs of their child, the state will fund – or help to fund – a different option.
With vouchers or tax credit scholarships, parents are no longer forced to send their children to only one school. That openness, in turn, encourages schools – public and private – to work creatively and innovate in an effort to meed the needs of students.
The trouble? School choice is still the object of specious arguments based on flimsy or no evidence. Here are five of the most popular:
The impressive results associated with school choice are well documented. There have been 12 empirical studies using random assignment — the gold standard of social sciences — to examine how school choice programs affect academic performance. All 12 found consistently positive results. Six found a positive benefit for all student participants, five found positive results for some students but not all, and one found no impact. Not one of the studies found a harmful effect to participants’ academic performance.
Detractors will often contend that the availability of school choice programs harms public schools. The “best” students leave for other schools, the thinking goes, leaving the “worst” students in public schools.
The research tells a different story. Out of 23 empirical studies that examine the effect of school choice on public schools, 22 found that the availability of school choice programs boosted academic performance at public schools. The remaining study found no effect.
It’s easy to see why. Most public schools — certainly this is true of South Carolina’s — receive funding based on the number of students they serve. Thus a decline in enrollment won’t decrease a school’s funding relative to its student base. Further, the presence of competing schools may actually encourage traditional public schools to find better ways to serve their students.
The evidence doesn’t support this claim. One meta-analysis examined eight empirical studies on this question. All eight either compared the racial composition of schools to the larger metropolitan area in which they were located, or measured the occurrence of racial homogeneity in schools. Of the eight studies, seven found that school choice moved students into less segregated schools, and one study found no effect.
Studies using other methods have found similar results. One research paper from the Brookings Institution examined district segregation levels over time. That study found charter schools (a form of public school choice) were unlikely to increase segregation.
Or to give an example specific to vouchers, a 2013 study sponsored by the state of Louisiana examined the state’s voucher program. That study found it improved racial integration in 16 of the 34 districts under federal desegregation orders, having little to no impact on the rest.
This is false.
But back up for a moment. The existing public school system sorts students based on geography – wealthier families have the option of moving into more expensive communities with higher quality school districts. Another Brookings paper found that in “the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school.” Lower income families who cannot afford higher rental rates or home prices are more likely to remain trapped in low performing school districts.
Without school choice, well off families will also have the option of sending their children to independent schools, even as less well off families will remain stuck in the schools dictated by the state.
Some of the most popular school choice programs – tax credit scholarships (in which donors receive tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations that pay the cost of tuition at independent schools) and vouchers (in which state funding goes directly to families for tuition payments and other school costs) – are popular precisely because they make options open to wealthier families open to poorer families too.
Studies of existing tax credit scholarship programs in Florida and Arizona have found that the average families receiving scholarships under these programs earn less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Similarly, in 2010 the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee reported the average family receiving a scholarship under Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program earned $29,000.
The extent of school choice programs in South Carolina is severely limited. South Carolina does have charter schools, but the funding for South Carolina’s statewide charter school district ($69.5 million in fiscal year 2016) is tiny when compared to traditional public schools.
South Carolina also has tax credit scholarships and direct tax credits for tuition paid to independent schools, but these programs are only available to exceptional needs children and are capped at $8 million a year, and $4 million a year respectively.
The most well known and direct school choice program – vouchers, in which public education funds follow the child – doesn’t exist in South Carolina at all.
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H.4145 would create a “Workforce Development Council” comprised of the heads or former heads of many powerful state agencies (Dept. of Education, Dept. of Commerce, State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education, Dept. of Employment and Workforce, and the Commission on Higher Education). In addition to gathering a plethora of data and regularly evaluating existing state workforce training, the Council would be charged with creating a state comprehensive plan for workforce training and education, and developing a plan to ensure there is an adequate number of healthcare workers. Local workforce development councils and elected officials would also be instructed to develop a local workforce development plan and submit it to the Council for review and the Governor for approval. Finally, the bill would create the “Pathways to First Careers” and “Pathways to New Opportunities” programs tasked with subsidizing career training programs (particularly programs that train individual for careers in industries with critical workforce shortages) for students, and adults respectively.
All of the agencies whose heads or ex-heads make up the Workforce Development Council would be tasked with helping to implement some part of the state comprehensive plan for workforce training and education developed by the Council. This bill would no doubt lead to increased spending at all of these agencies, and creates new tax credits for funding apprenticeships and scholarships for workforce training. This proposed legislation seems to fall just shy of complete central planning of our state’s labor force. Heads of government agencies cannot accurately predict the natural growth of various industries in our state and their future demand for workers. Attempts to push the state’s future labor force into favored industries will most likely result in a surplus of workers in some industries (meaning unemployment and reduced wages), and a shortage in others, both outcomes will combine to hinder overall economic growth.]]>
South Carolina’s status as a right-to-work state is often credited by government officials as the reason business is attracted to our state. But there’s something troubling about the way they talk about that status. The right to work, many of our elected officials seem to think, isn’t so much a right as an effective “economic development” tool. The fundamental principle underlying right-to-work laws – that government shouldn’t have the authority to tell people how to organize themselves in the private economy – seems to be lost in the rhetoric of “job creation.”
So lost has the principle become, in fact, that some officials and commentators seem to believe that unions are illegal in right-to-work states. They are not. They simply outlaw policies that force people to join unions against their will. The principle, remember, is not that unions are bad, but that government should not empower unions to coerce people into joining.
During National Employee Freedom Week, we’re reminding South Carolinians that employee freedom means a lot more than passing right-to-work laws. It means – or ought to mean – removing government’s power to hinder lawful and productive work. Right-to-work laws are good as far as they go, but South Carolina state government stops citizens from pursuing their work in scores of ways that have little to do with our right-to-work law.
We have, for example, more than 40 occupational licensing boards that exist primarily to hinder South Carolinians from entering the market. Of course, their stated goal is to protect the public. What they actually do is penalize low-income citizens and insulate established businesses from healthy competition. The state also spends hundreds of millions of public dollars every year on government-driven “economic development”: that’s money taken from taxpayers and used for the benefit of companies state officials favor for one reason or another.
The emphasis on “job creation” – as if it’s government’s job to create jobs – has led public officials to forget their responsibility on the private economy. Their responsibility is to foster an environment in which businesses and individuals have the freedom to innovate, and the fullest possible opportunity to create wealth for themselves and others.
The loss of focus has led many, perhaps most, elected officials to pursue policies that favor some companies and industries over others. That’s good for the favored industries or companies, but in the long run bad for just about everyone else.
A few bills proposed in 2015 will illustrate what we mean.
A pair of bills filed in our House of Representatives this year – H.3373 and H.3774 – would have the Board of Technical and Comprehensive Education to collaborate with the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW), the Commission on Higher Education (CHE), and the Department of Education (DOE), and other alphabet soup agencies to establish a “manufacturing career pathway” for students within the manufacturing sector, and a “construction career pathway” for students in the construction sector. These bills are little more than corporate handouts for companies engaged in the manufacturing or construction sectors. It is not the state’s responsibility to encourage its citizens to pursue certain careers paths, or to provide a steady stream of trained workers for favored industry. Between the Workforce Investment Act and ReadySC, South Carolina already spends roughly $58 million yearly on workforce training with little appreciable effect to the state economy.
Another bill filed this session is even more ambitious. It would create a “Workforce Development Council” comprised of the heads or former heads of many powerful state agencies (Education, Commerce, the technical colleges, DEW, CHE). In addition to gathering a plethora of data and regularly evaluating existing state workforce training, the Council would be charged with creating a state comprehensive plan for workforce training and education, and developing a plan to ensure there is an adequate number of health care workers. The bill, among many other things, would create programs called “Pathways to First Careers” and “Pathways to New Opportunities,” tasked with subsidizing career training programs for students and adults.
These bills fall just shy of direct central planning. What’s truly shocking about them, however, is that they are utterly routine. Bills like this pass every year, and have been passing into law for decades.
While lawmakers may believe they’re doing the right thing by creating countless programs aimed at “job creation,” in practice they are stifling creativity, discouraging innovation, and making entrepreneurship harder. Businesses that can’t afford the steep costs of licensing and regulatory requirements will fail, while larger, more established – and more favored – businesses will flourish. In the end, these policies result in fewer choices for consumers and fewer opportunities for entrepreneurs.
The right not to join a union is a fine thing. But South Carolina has much further to go in pursuit of the freedom to work.
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S.105 and companion bills S.570 and H.3716 are all attempts to enact a policy of “constitutional carry.” If passed, any of the bills would make South Carolina the seventh state to legalize constitutional carry. Maine became the sixth state to do so on July 8.
Anyone over 21 who is legally allowed to own a handgun in the state would be able to carry that handgun in public either openly (in plain sight) or concealed, without the requirement of a concealed weapons permit (CWP). (See our fuller analysis of the issue here.) Citizens who still want to obtain a CWP in order to carry in other states that have reciprocity with South Carolina would still be able to do so. The bills would still allow businesses or other property-owners to restrict weapons on their premises if they have legally posted a sign stating the prohibition (“No Weapons Allowed”). And the bills would still prohibit carrying a weapon into the residence or dwelling place of another person without the permission of the owner.
S.105, S.570, and H.3716 are all full constitutional carry bills. These bills stand in contrast to H.3025, which would allow for the unlicensed carrying of a concealed firearm, but would continue to forbid citizens from openly carrying handguns. That would probably be an improvement over existing law, but it falls short of constitutional carry. H.3025 was drafted as a bill to expand the number of states from which South Carolina would recognize a concealed carry permit; it was later amended on the House floor, on motion of Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens), into its current form. Earlier in the same day, Rep. Jonathan Hill (R-Anderson) attempted to amend H.3025 to bring it line with the above mentioned constitutional carry bills. But that attempt failed.
In any case, S.10, S.507, and H.3716 would all help to restore the promise of the Second Amendment in South Carolina. To keep and bear arms is a right afforded by the U.S. constitution, not a privilege afforded by local or state governments, and it should not be prohibited outright or made conditional by requiring permits and fees. And as a practical concern, there is precious little evidence suggesting that gun control measures have ever helped to reduce violent crime. In considering any policy to limit the purchase or carrying of firearms, therefore, the presumption should be one of liberty.
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