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ISSUE 13.39
Sep. 26, 2014

9/19 | 9/12 | 9/05 | 8/29


News :
Down-ballot candidates get little attention
Photo :
Grain bins, Clarendon County, S.C.
Legislative Agenda :
A few meetings next week
Commentary :
Word to the wise: Broaden the tax base
Spotlight :
Time Warner Cable
My Turn :
Time to raise the gas tax?
Feedback :
Give us a rant. Give us a rave.
Scorecard :
Five -- count 'em -- five downs this week
Megaphone :
Find a dictionary
Tally Sheet :
Research past bills, proposals
Encyclopedia :
St. James Santee Parish

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Breaking news: Harrell bond hearing

We received word just after publication today that there will be a bond hearing for suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell at 9 a.m. Monday at the Richland County Judicial Center.  S.C. Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III, a former member of the S.C. House and Senate, will preside.



That’s the number of days between today (Sept. 26) and the statewide election on Nov. 4. If you’re not registered to vote, you have until Oct. 4. More.


Find a dictionary

“Thomas Ravenel hates goverment overreach.”

-- From a campaign ad that was taken down by the Ravenel campaign. Not only does Ravenel hate “goverment,” but he apparently also hates spelling words correctly.  More.


St. James Santee Parish

The parish of St. James Santee was established on April 9, 1706, and included the northeastern portions of modern Berkeley and Charleston Counties. The earliest Europeans to settle along the southern bank of the lower Santee River were Huguenots attracted to South Carolina in the 1680s by the promise of religious and political freedom. Although the exact date is unknown, the Huguenots built their first church, a small frame structure overlooking the river, shortly after arriving, and by 1699 it contained 111 members.

In 1706 a village called Jamestown was laid out around the church, and that same year the one hundred French families and sixty English families living in the vicinity successfully petitioned the assembly for parish status. Unlike Jamestown, which never prospered and soon disappeared, the church was able to persevere despite circumstances that one early rector described as "very strange." Because of the language barrier within the congregation, for decades St. James Santee required a minister who could "Preach to the French in French and ye English in English." The present church, located near McClellanville, was the fourth to serve the parish. Built in 1768, it is known locally as "The Brick Church."

Early experiments with silk, grapes, and olives were unsuccessful, but in the eighteenth century rice and indigo "poured streams of wealth into the pockets of the French planters." With the abolition of the parish system in 1865, St. James Santee Parish became part of Berkeley County.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Matthew A. Lockhart. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)


Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.


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Down-ballot candidates get little attention

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

SEPT. 26, 2014 -- With lots of attention on statewide races for governor and lieutenant governor, down-ballot races for constitutional offices are getting the short end of the stick. Again.


Calls for a shorter ballot -- and fewer constitutional officers to allow the state’s executive, the governor, to pick an executive team -- have been around for about 100 years, as highlighted in a model state constitution touted in 1921 by the National Municipal League. It urged constitutional reform across the country because of numerous problems:

“Among typical deficiencies were: (1) a poorly function legislature unrepresentative, understaffed, unresponsive, and a tool of special interests; (2) a weak executive with dispersed powers and little control over administration; (3) an uncoordinated judicial branch with politically oriented judges; (4) weak local governments with little or no powers of self-governance; (5) a long ballot by which many officers are elected without regard to personal qualifications; (6) cumbersome, unworkable constitutional amendment processes; and (7) inclusion of statutory material in the constitution that clutter its basic provisions and slowed any changes to established practices.”

-- Source: Cole Blease Graham, Jr., “The South Carolina Constitution:  A Reference Guide,” 2007.

South Carolina votes every four years for seven constitutional officers other than the two at the top of the ticket: adjutant general, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, comptroller general, secretary of state, state superintendent of education and state treasurer. 

This creates, as University of South Carolina political science professor Mark Tompkins says, a “long ballot” - - a lot of choices for voters of candidates who generally struggle to get out their message and who can’t afford to advertise much.

“One of the reforms that we’re 80 years overdue is to shorten the ballot,” Tompkins said. “Voters don’t have the time and attention ... and it’s gotten worse, with the changing quality of the media, to figure out who these people are.”

Because of an increasingly apathetic electorate, most voters don’t do much homework, which makes party identification matter a lot more, observed College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.

“I’m probably more of a fan of having a governor who has the ability to bring in a team and make appointments,” Knotts said. “Is it necessarily the best way now -- to pick somebody who can win a campaign versus an executive who can appoint somebody through interviews and an executive process?”

This year, voters have a chance to make a shorter ballot because there’s a constitutional amendment to make South Carolina’s adjutant general, the only one in the country still elected, become an appointed position. 

Still, there are a lot of candidates on the ballot. Here’s a quick thumbnail of the races that might not yet have grabbed your attention.

Secretary of State
Ginny Deerin (D) vs. Mark Hammond (R)

Deerin, a first-time statewide candidate from Sullivan’s Island, has gotten media attention for complaining about how Hammond, the incumbent, uses his state car to drive between his Spartanburg home and Columbia office.

“He doesn’t see that that’s a waste of tax dollars,” said Deerin, who surprised many Democrats by securing the endorsement of the conservative Club for Growth. “I don’t think he sees it as being wrong. It’s not illegal, but in my view it’s wrong.”

Hammond, who has no campaign web site, counters that he has been elected three times as a statewide official, which means he works across the state. As far as driving back and forth from work in a state vehicle, he notes that he has, per state regulation, claimed more personal mileage than any other constitutional office -- some 23,000 miles in the most recent year.  That mileage is “treated as income and I pay taxes on that,” he said, noting that whether the secretary of state should have a state or personal car is a matter of opinion.

Substantively, the candidates disagree how the office should be modernized. Hammond claims that the most important forms used by his office -- some 44 out of about 150 -- are available online in one fashion or another. Deerin says only four forms can be completed in full on the Secretary of State’s web site and that the others don’t link in a user-friendly manner to the state’s Business One Stop site.

“There are 139 things -- processes -- that you can do in the Secretary of State’s office and of those, only four can you complete online [on the site],” Deerin said. “In today’s digital world, that’s just shameful and wasteful.”

Hammond countered, “To say it’s four applications is just ridiculous.” He later added, “I think that’s splitting hairs. We have limited resources. I can’t understand how she’s going to provide all these services [online] and still cut the budget.”

He added that voters should pick him to remain in office because of the strides made to modernize services, such as creating searchable databases for boards, commissions and notaries. He also pointed out that he would continue tough enforcement of the state law that oversees solicitations by charities to protect state donors.

Deerin, a non-profit and political fundraiser over the years known for her work with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley,  said she wants to implement fixes and changes to the Secretary of State’s office to save money and provide better services. 

“The Secretary of State’s office is kind of like how the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] was 12 years ago,” she said. “It’s just unbelievably inefficient and ineffective. I want to do for the Secretary of State’s office what we’ve done with the DMV.”

State superintendent of education
Ed Murray (Am.) vs. Molly Spearman (R) vs. Tom Thompson (D)

During the primary season, the superintendent of education’s race got a lot of attention because both major parties had contested primaries.   Emerging from the scrums were Spearman, a former state legislator who switched to the GOP and has run the S.C. Association of School Administrators for the last few years, and Thompson, a former college dean. [NOTE: We’ll provide a more in-depth look at this race in our Oct. 17 issue.]

Spearman entered the race late, reportedly to counterbalance conservative and tea-party forces seeking to get their candidates as the GOP nominee. By beating Sally Atwater, wife of the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater, she secured her place as the candidate with the broadest experience in the race. 

As reported earlier by Statehouse Report, Spearman has called for an overhauling of the state’s public school education system, taking it away from a style more suited for the state’s agrarian and manufacturing past to focusing more on technology-rich jobs of the future. Her top three planks include safe schools with an emphasis on combating bullying, giving more public education options to families and holding schools to “local” standards, as opposed to national “Common Core” standards.


In the coming weeks, we’ll provide a look at several races on statewide ballots on Nov. 4:

  • TODAY: Down ballot races
  • OCT. 3: Lt. governor
  • OCT. 17: State superintendent
  • OCT. 24: Governor
Thompson, a former dean at S.C. State University, has said he would change the focus of the state’s curriculum to not only serve the high-achieving kids headed for elite colleges, but those near the bottom of the attainment curve headed toward jobs in the trades. He has said it was critical to address the educational needs of students “trapped” in the middle by giving them a series of introductions to different experiences so they better find their best fit in the world. 

Murray, running as a candidate in the new American Party, is a teacher and administrator with 25 years of experience. In a recent Facebook post he said, “This election is critical for it determines the experiences that another generation of young students are going to have in the halls of our public schools. We cannot afford to allow the status quo in politics to maintain the status quo in education.”

Three other constitutional races haven’t caught on much at all, which Tompkins and Knotts agreed gave a big advantage to the incumbent Republicans.

Attorney General
Parnell Diggs (D) vs. Alan Wilson (R)

For the past few months, Wilson has been a mainstay in headlines for his roles in investigating now-suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell as well as fighting over issues ranging from Obamacare and gay marriage to human trafficking and immigration. 

Governing magazine’s Lou Jacobson, who looks at races across the country, rates Wilson to be a safe Republican: “Wilson, elected in 2010, has avoided the kind of flak that has made GOP Gov. Nikki Haley's bid for a second term something short of a cakewalk even though she's running in a solidly Republican state. Wilson looks quite secure.”

Diggs, a Garden City lawyer who is president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, says he’s running to be attorney general to build “a fairer, more ethical Office of the Attorney General, and for taking partisan politics out of the administration of justice.” He says he’ll work hard to fight the state’s “F” rating for the risk of public corruption, refrain for spending tax dollars fighting Obamacare, refrain from defending laws that undermine voting rights and more.

Commissioner of Agriculture
Emile DeFelice (Am.) vs. David Edmond (UC) vs. Hugh Weathers (R)

DeFelice, who ran for the seat as a Democrat eight years ago, is a candidate for the American Party this year. A former pork producer, he believes the state Department of Agriculture should be reduced or eliminated, particularly because of marketing the agency pays for.

Edmond, a Lexington County native who is a semi-retired minister, wants to encourage farmers to diversify and help attract businesses that make alternative fuels. He does not appear to have a web site.

Weathers, a third-generation dairy farmer who was appointed commissioner in 2004 and has been elected twice since, is running on his successes, including growth of the rural agribusiness economy and more. He says he’s focused also on creating the next generation of farmers and crops. 

Comptroller General
Richard Eckstrom (R) vs. Kyle Herbert (D)

Eckstrom, who has no campaign Web site, has been comptroller general since 2002. From 1994-98, he served as state treasurer. Eckstrom touts being a champion of fiscal restraint, accountability and transparency as the state’s “chief accountant.”

Herbert, a certified public accountant who works at Palmetto Health, says Eckstrom hasn’t acted accountable in his years as comptroller general with “numerous allegations of ethical misconduct that range from misuse of campaign funds to using state own assets [sic] for personal use.”

Finally on the ballot are two candidates with no opposition: Adjutant General Bob Livingston (R), who may be the last person ever to campaign for the position, and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis (R).

 Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:


Grain bins, Clarendon County, S.C.

Look around rural areas of South Carolina and you’re almost more likely to see grain bins than structures like tobacco barns, writes photographer Linda W. Brown of Kingstree, S.C. More photos: Center for a Better South.

Legislative Agenda

A few meetings next week

Here's what's on tap next week at the Statehouse:

  • Bonds. A joint Bonds Study Committee will meet 1 p.m. Sept. 30 in 105 Gressette. An agenda includes no substantive information.

  • Transportation. The Transportation Infrastructure and Management Ad-Hoc Committee will meet 1 p.m. Sept. 30 in 110 Blatt to review the department and hear from the heads of the Transportation Commission and state Infrastructure Bank. More.

  • Animal welfare. A select committee on animal welfare of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will meet 7 p.m. Sept. 30 in Graniteville at Aiken Tech. More.  The committee will also meet Oct. 7 in Florence and Oct. 14 in North Charleston.

Programming note

Statehouse Report Editor and Publisher Andy Brack will appear on Carolina Business Review for a discussion about politics, taxes and more, including questions with Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter. The show is expected to broadcast 9:30 p.m. Oct. 2 on ETV’s South Carolina Channel with other viewings at 5 p.m. Oct. 8 on ETV World, 6 p.m. Oct. 10 on ETV World and in November on ETV. More.


Word to the wise: Broaden the tax base

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

SEPT. 26, 2014 -- Every now and then, something clicks in your brain and leads you to thinking about things in unexpected ways. 

Such is the case upon hearing a state trooper was charged with a felony after shooting an unarmed man in Richland County. For some reason, the news led from a consideration of the tragedy to its relation to state budgeting and taxes. 

Why? Because of how the state Highway Patrol, like many state agencies, has fluctuated in recent years. When times were good, the patrol’s strength was flush, with about 900 troopers patrolling the state. But when times turned bad a few years back, the state had to cut expenses, which meant it encouraged senior troopers to move along and didn’t hire as many new troopers. 

In other words, the reality of the Great Recession was to reduce the number of employees and their costs to stay within lower budgets.   General Fund revenues -- the amount of state tax dollars to spend running government -- dropped for three years straight from a high of just over $7 billion in 2007 to  $5.7 billion by 2010. That’s a drop in revenues of 19 percent! It’s taken five budget cycles since 2010 for state revenues to return to 2007 levels.

Look at the impact on the Highway Patrol. At the start of the recession, in Fiscal Year 2008, the agency had 967 commissioned troopers. Then it dropped every year for five years to 778 in 2013 -- a loss of almost 200 officers. The patrol saw a similar cycle after the 2002 recession when the force went from 854 in 2003 to 763 two years later. 

This see-saw effect also is evident in trooper training numbers. In 2008, the Highway Patrol graduated 103 troopers from the S.C. Law Enforcement Academy. The next year -- the first big year of the recession -- the budget was so tight that it had no graduates -- zero -- from the academy. Numbers started picking back up with about 80 troopers graduating a year now.

In simplest terms, the Highway Patrol, like other agencies, has been on a budget rollercoaster. But think about what that really means. It suggests that the state has been losing experienced troopers and workers to cut money and, when more money is available, hiring new recruits and employees to fill in the gaps. Lost is an enormous amount of institutional knowledge. Lost is an agency’s notion of teamwork. Lost, some would say, is agency stability and pride in being a state employee.

Which leads to another jump in thought -- that the state needs to get off this rollercoaster to be able to weather tough times and not spend like mad when times are better to make up for problems during tough times.

How to smooth out the cycle? Broaden the tax base, as just about any economist would say. Some considerations:

  • Cut exemptions. The state loses $3.1 billion a year because of special-interest sales tax exemptions. Cutting exemptions could allow the state to lower the sales tax rate and have more money for needed projects, such as billions in road needs.

  • Raise the gas tax. South Carolina’s gas tax is among the lowest in the nation at 16.8 cents per gallon. North Carolina’s is 21 cents higher per gallon; Georgia’s is 12 cents higher. Getting more in fees from people using roads would lessen pressure on the General Fund.

  • Rainy day fund. The state has two reserve funds, but neither can be tapped in mid-year if there are shortfalls. Lawmakers should add another reserve fund to give agencies a cushion if something goes sour before the end of a year.

  • Property taxes. State businesses continue to suffer because of an ill-conceived tax swap that has forced businesses to pay more in property taxes. This needs to be overhauled completely.

  • Brackets. Personal income tax brackets should be modernized to restore progressivity in income taxes to balance the burden on poorer folks from sales taxes.

If South Carolina continues to ignore budget fluctuations because of a broken tax system, things will just get worse down the road.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:

Time Warner Cable

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. Today, we’re happy to shine the spotlight on Time Warner Cable. The company’s Carolina Region provides video, Internet and telephone services to more than two million customers in more than 400 cities and towns across North and South Carolina. Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., with technologically advanced, well-clustered systems located in New York State, the Carolinas, Ohio, southern California and Texas.  The company’s mission: Connect people and businesses with information, entertainment and each other; give customers control in ways that are simple and easy.

My Turn

Time to raise the gas tax?

By Holley Ulbrich, Statehouse Report blogger

SEPT. 26, 2014–South Carolina has the third lowest state tax on gasoline (16.75 cents per gallon).  Only Alaska and New Jersey have lower rates.  If we raise any tax, this one would probably be the least unacceptable. Why? Let’s go through the standard tax test used by economists. How will an increase in this tax affect efficiency, equity and adequacy?

Efficiency covers a lot of ground.  Efficiency is about incentives, encouraging households and firms to undertake desirable activities and discouraging them from undesirable ones. Will a higher gasoline tax discourage business from locating in the state? It’s unlikely that the low gasoline tax is a draw, since there are very few industries other than trucking for which the price of gasoline is a significant factor.   Even in the case of trucking, the gasoline tax revenue is distributed among states in proportion to the miles driven and the state tax rate (regardless of where the gasoline is purchased. As a result, South Carolina gets a smaller share of that revenue than other states with higher tax rates. 

Will raising the gas tax encourage less driving and/or buying more fuel efficient cars? Perhaps, depending on the size of the rate increase.  Just in 2014, gasoline prices have been close to $4 a gallon and are now hovering around $3 a gallon, so any change in the price from a tax increase would be barely noticeable in such a volatile market. But encouraging people to drive less and/or buy more fuel efficient cars results in less air pollution, and less driving reduces wear and tear on roads, which are paid for at least in part by gasoline taxes.

"In the early 2000s, gasoline prices were just over a dollar a gallon.  Today, the price per gallon is three to four times that much, but a gallon of gasoline still yields only 16.75 cents in revenue."
What about equity? It’s hard to determine how the gasoline tax is distributed across households.  Certainly young families drive more and older people drive less.  But within income groups, we would expect to see more miles driven and more fuel-inefficient SUVs and luxury cars as income rises.  So it’s probably not a big burden on the poor compared to middle and upper income households.  There’s also an equity issue in that those who use the roads most should pay more for their repair and maintenance, and that’s exactly what the gasoline tax does. It’s more like a user fee than a tax.

But of the three tests, the most important one is adequacy.  South Carolina has a huge backlog of unmet infrastructure needs ($42 billion over the next 30 years), and a big share of that is roads and bridges.  Right now the state gasoline tax only raises about $500 million a year.  At that rate, it would take us till the end of the century just to meet the needs for the next three decades!

Finally, tax rates need to be adjusted periodically to adapt to changes in the base.  If the value of the property tax base increases, we expect mill rates to stay constant, sometimes even to fall after reassessment.  Rising incomes generate more income tax revenue, even after indexing for inflation.  So do rising retail sales.  But the base of the gasoline tax is not gasoline sales in dollars, but in gallons.  In the early 2000s, gasoline prices were just over a dollar a gallon.  Today, the price per gallon is three to four times that much, but a gallon of gasoline still yields only 16.75 cents in revenue.  Revenue growth from the gasoline tax in South Carolina has been about 3.3 percent a year for the past decade, reflecting only the increase in the number of gallons sold with a growing population and increased miles driven.  But in the meantime, we have 11 percent more drivers and rising costs for maintenance and repair as well as building new roads and adding lanes to existing roads to accommodate new drivers.

A few years ago South Carolina bit the bullet and raised the tax rate on cigarettes dramatically, from 7 cents a pack to 57 cents, raising more revenue and discouraging smoking.  Did the sky fall? No, in part because it just brought us in line with what other states had done.  Perhaps it’s time to do the same with gasoline taxes.

Holly Ulbrich is senior scholar at the Jim Self Center on the Future at Clemson University.  You can find more commentaries like this at our blog,


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We love hearing from our readers and encourage you to share your opinions.  But you've got to provide us with contact information so we can verify your letters. Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less.  Please include your name and contact information.  Send your letters to:


Five -- count 'em -- five downs this week

Greenberg. We’ll always remember the late Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg for his roller-skating, crime-bustin’ ways and quotable quotes that made for some good stories. Rest in peace, chief.

Highway Patrol. Hats off for firing the state trooper who shot an unarmed man “without justification.” Let’s hope this is an isolated incident. More.

Anti-obesity effort. Hats off to the state for launching another anti-obesity effort, but we hope that it will focus way more than a web-centric strategy. It’s a little odd, too, that the state Health Department director didn’t know how much it cost to build the site. More.

Poverty. South Carolina’s poverty rate crept from 18.3 percent to 18.6 percent as the country’s went down. We now are ninth highest in poverty. Shame, shame, shame. More.

Goldfinch. State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, continues to attract hot water. This week, Democratic opponent Vida Miller called on Gov. Nikki Haley, who has been pushing ethics reform, to opposed endorsing Goldfinch, who faces a federal charge, because it would be a “betrayal of everything you’ve been fighting for.” Haley attended a Goldfinch event Thursday in Pawleys Island and reportedly supported him. More.

Sheheen. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen’s campaign tarnished its clean-cut image this week when it had to pull an ad critical of the way Gov. Nikki Haley has been handling the embattled state Department of Social Services. More.

Revenue. Tsk. Tsk. The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state Department of Revenue broke the spirit of state freedom of information laws when it responded to a request from a Greenville businessman. More.

Bad grade. The state got a D+ from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research for how it deals with women in the workforce. More.

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2014 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to