Tag: SC General Assembly

McMaster’s Liberal I-73 Agenda in State of State Speech

Governor Henry McMaster revealed what a pseudo-conservative he really is by including funding for the proposed Interstate 73 project in his State of the State agenda.
In his speech, McMaster said, “Our booming economy and rapid population growth have outpaced the state’s ability to keep up with improvements to our transportation infrastructure.”
Anyone driving on South Carolina roads would agree.
McMaster went on to say that he was asking the General Assembly to appropriate $660 million from the state’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $600 million from the state’s excess revenue to the SC Department of Transportation.
McMaster said this one-time injection of $1.26 billion into the DOT budget would allow accelerate work on “some of the state’s highest priority projects.” Among those “highest priority projects” named was “the long-awaited start of construction on Interstate 73 from the Pee Dee to the Grand Strand.”
I’m sure McMasters’ words warmed the cockles of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan’s heart and those of the special interests gathered around the Chamber supporting I-73.
Can we conclude payback to those interests for the many campaign contributions made to McMaster’s war chest?
Consider this:
When McMaster attended a Chamber press conference on I-73 last fall, he announced he would ask the General Assembly for $300 million from ARPA funds to construct six miles of the road in Dillon County. Fifty million dollars per mile, even for this boondoggle, seems a bit rich, but those are McMaster’s words.

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Gov. McMaster Tries to Keep I-73 Project Alive

Gov. Henry McMaster requested the General Assembly appropriate $300 million, from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the state received from the federal government, to construction of Interstate 73 as one of the items in the executive budget he submitted to the legislative body earlier this week.
McMaster made good on the promise he made to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at an October 2021 press conference when he said he would request the I-73 funding from the General Assembly.
Traditionally, executive budgets submitted by governors of this state have received minimal consideration before being shelved and ignored when the SC House writes the budget. There is no reason to believe the same won’t happen with the governor’s request for I-73 funding.
McMaster presented a funding plan for the I-73 project which consisted of $800 million from the state, including the $300 million which is actually federal funds given to the state, an additional $450 million from the federal government and $350 million from the local governments in Horry County.
However, Chamber President Karen Riordan attempted to spin the governor’s remarks at the October press conference as a pledge that the I-73 project would receive $300 million from the state. She was joined in that spin effort by Rep. Case Brittain, who in his first year in the SC House was made president of the I-73/74/75 Corridor Association, which is a high-sounding name for a Chamber created entity.
In addition, Congressman Tom Rice and SC Rep. Russell Fry were prominent at the press conference and enthusiastic in their statements on I-73 funding. Fry, of course, announced in August that he was challenging Rice for the Congressional seat because Rice has been a failure to his constituents in the 7th Congressional District. GSD has said over and over that Fry is really a clone of Rice who hopes to gain Chamber support for his Congressional run should Rice continue to falter with voters.
Actually, the press conference and statements by the various elected officials was nothing more than an attempt to keep the I-73 project on some kind of life support.
What has happened since that October press conference?

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Chamber and Governor Mull Press Conference to Announce I-73 Funding with No Funding Approved

The latest effort by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to make construction of Interstate 73 a viable project in the minds of the voters of Horry County took several bizarre twists yesterday.
A brief recap:
In recent weeks, the Chamber has promoted the idea that a mysterious poll of voters in South Carolina (405 in all) showed 82% of those responding favored construction of I-73. The actual questions and responses have never been revealed, just questionable results.
The poll announcement was followed by news that Chamber President and CEO Karen Riordan, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato were working on a $750 million funding package for the I-73 project that included $250 in funding from local governments and $500 million from the state. It was announced that the governments of Horry County, the City of Myrtle Beach and the City of North Myrtle Beach would approve their respective portions of the $250 million funding package by the end of this month.
Monday it was announced that the Horry County Administration Committee would vote the next day on a resolution to dedicate $4.2 million per year, for up to 30 years, to the I-73 project from county hospitality fee revenue. That vote, however, was postponed until at least October 26 after a short executive session by committee members on Tuesday.
Tuesday evening Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was informed that Gov. Henry McMaster would hold a press conference Monday October 4, 2021, at the Myrtle Beach Chamber offices to announce the state was committing $300 million to I-73 construction. (There was no explanation of why alleged state funding was reduced from the $500 million announced by Brittain to the $300 million over a two-week span.)
Now the bizarre:
According to a number of sources familiar with events, word began to spread from Riordan to local politicians yesterday that the governor would be coming to Myrtle Beach on Monday to make an announcement about I-73 funding.
Unless the state government receives specifically earmarked funds for I-73 from the federal government, the governor cannot order any state agency to spend money on the project. Appropriations must receive voting approval from the General Assembly.
State legislators, from around the state, contacted by Grand Strand Daily, said the news that Gov. McMaster was going to announce funding from the state for I-73 was a surprise since the General Assembly had not approved nor even considered any such appropriation.

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School Mask Mandates – Who are the True Conservatives?

This week’s controversy about whether to require students, teachers and staff to wear masks in public schools gave us another chance to see who are the real conservative political leaders and who are the politicians that only give voice to conservatism to get elected.
Put another way, who truly promotes individual liberty and limiting government overreach and who doesn’t?
The longest serving legislative member in Horry County, Sen. Luke Rankin, joined forces with Democrats throughout the state and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to call for the repeal of a state budget proviso that currently makes it illegal for local school boards to require masks to be worn in schools.
What makes this extremely absurd is it’s only two months since the proviso became law with the passing of the state budget and both passing the proviso and repealing it are examples of government overreach by the state legislature.
Government overreach by the state legislature is almost a requirement in a General Assembly filled with mostly pseudo-conservative politicians who enjoy exercising power over others. And many in the Horry County legislative delegation excel at government overreach by dictating to local governments and citizens.
At the very most, decisions on whether students should be required to wear masks in school should be left to the local governing school board, but one which should be exercised only in extreme circumstances. The decision on whether a child wears a mask to school or not should be left to the parents of the child as a normal course of action. Otherwise, what does individual liberty mean?
The controversy over masks quickly entered the political discussion in the 7th Congressional District race.
School Board Chairman Ken Richardson has said repeatedly in media reports that state law currently forbids school boards from legislating masking requirements and that he believes it is a decision that should be left to the parents.
Former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride took Rankin to task in a video rebuttal to Rankin’s call for a mask mandate. In that rebuttal, McBride said he believes the decision to wear a mask to school or not should be left to the parents.
State Rep. Russell Fry, who launched his campaign declaring he was a true conservative Republican, has been strangely quiet on the issue.
However, Fry has not been timid about being in the middle of government overreach by the General Assembly on other issues.

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October is Italian American Heritage Month

October is officially designated as Italian American Heritage Month thanks to a bill passed in the SC General Assembly in March 2015.

The bill added Sec. 53-3-200 to the SC Code of Laws designating October of every year as Italian American Heritage month.

Sen. Ray Cleary chaperoned the bill through the SC Senate and former Rep. Nelson Hardwick performed the same duties in the SC House. It was signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley on March 27, 2015.

The bill recognizes the many vital contributions of Italian Americans to the state in the political, social and economic systems of South Carolina.

Horry County resident Fred Nesta was recognized as the catalyst behind the effort to pass the bill. A member of Grand Strand Lodge 2868 of the Order of Sons of Italy in America and a past national state deputy of the order.

“This legislation is to recognize the efforts of all Italians and Italian-Americans who sacrificed to give future generations a better life,” said Fred Nesta. “Over the past decade, a heightened interest in our roots has come about, where we came from, what we stand for, recognition of the contributions of Italians and Italian-Americans and their influence in the world…this drives us to seek and learn more about our roots and share in the joy of our heritage with our entire community.

Nesta said members of local chapters of OSIA and other Italian clubs and organizations in South Carolina embody these interests and values which include giving back to the community through monetary donations and services and to share their Italian heritage through local and national Italian festivals and other endeavors.

State Steps into Parking Fee Controversy

The SC General Assembly entered the parking fee debate when local legislators Jeff Johnson and Kevin Hardee filed a bill requiring equal treatment of residents and non-residents alike, with respect to on street parking, unless otherwise approved by the General Assembly.

Ordinarily, such decisions should remain at the local level. However, the arrogance that the City of Myrtle Beach has demonstrated in its attempts to effectively privatize the stretch of Ocean Boulevard known as the “Golden Mile” to homeowners in that area, does need tempering.

One finding of the bill reads, “Whereas, the right to park on a public street is not a right incident to ownership of abutting land but rather one that is incident to use of the street for travel and commerce and one which is rightly shared by all members of the public, …”

The key section of the bill that relates directly to the Golden Mile controversy reads, “”Section 5-7-320. Any ordinance, resolution, or regulation of any municipality regarding on-street parking privileges for residents of a municipality that are not available on the same terms to nonresidents of the municipality of that county must be approved only by the General Assembly.”

The bill was filed so late in the current legislative year that it will not be acted upon until the second year of the current legislative session, which begins in January 2018. It is unknown how much support the bill will garner among legislators, but it could be considerable.

Immediately before the bill was filed, a contingent of mayors from the coastal cities was in Columbia lobbying for the General Assembly to provide an annual, dedicated revenue stream to ongoing fund beach renourishment.

SC Joint Pension Committee Fails Review Test

The South Carolina Joint Committee on Pension Review failed miserably in its task to recommend solutions to the state’s failing public employee retirement system.

Made up of a mixture of Democrats and Republicans from the SC House and Senate, the committee’s basic recommendations were to throw more money at a failing model and to silence the one statewide elected official who has been calling for changes in the system over the past six years.

The state’s public employee retirement fund has been one of the worst, if not the worst, performing public pension funds in the country. It is known for two things – extremely low rates of return on investment combined with extremely high fees paid to the institutions doing the investing.

The public retirement system is currently plagued with an estimated $25 billion shortfall on future liabilities.

The committee’s solution to closing the shortfall is to throw more money into the pot. Employee contributions will rise slightly from the current 8.66% of earnings to a cap of 9% of salary.

However, the employer contributions, those contributions paid by tax dollars from public agencies participating in the system, will rise from the current 11.56% of earnings to 13.56% beginning next fiscal year and rising each year until it reaches 18.56% in 2023. That is a 60.5% increase in tax dollars over the next six years.

As egregious as that rise of public spending is, even worse is the recommendation to remove SC Treasurer Curtis Loftis as Custodian of the pension funds and as a member of the SC Retirement System Investment Commission.

Loftis is the only public official who has routinely criticized the mismanagement of the retirement system by the Public Employee Benefit Authority and the SCRSIC as well as the high salaries and bonuses paid to SCRSIC staffers and their often cozy relationship with risky hedge fund investment managers.

RIDE III and Horry County Voters

Horry County voters will be asked to tax themselves for another seven years for what is known as RIDE III.

The referendum question will ask voters to approve an additional one-cent sales tax for seven years with the proceeds going to road projects.

When the Capital Projects Sales Tax legislation was initially approved by the SC General Assembly over 20 years ago, its goal was to provide a funding mechanism for the Conway Bypass Project, or what we now call S.C. 22.

A one-cent additional sales tax levied for seven years to pay for the county’s portion of the cost of construction of S.C. 22 wasn’t a bad idea. The projects now proposed are in the “nice to have”, instead of a justifiable “must have”, category.

But, a tax once levied is a difficult thing to do away with and creative ways were found to extend this taxing ability to other jurisdictions.

Since the initial RIDE I project constructed S.C. 22, politicians have found (manufactured?) justifications to ask voters to make this a recurring tax in Horry County.

The politicians found this was such an easy sale to the voters that RIDE II was added in 2006, a one-cent sales tax for school construction was added in 2008 and the one-cent sales tax for tourism advertising was added in Myrtle Beach in 2009.

Of course, the tourism tax was never subjected to a referendum by voters because that would probably have failed at the ballot box. Instead, our local legislative delegation and Myrtle Beach City Council conspired to have that tax approved by a super majority vote of city council.

In my opinion, we have reached the point where one-cent local option sales taxes are out of control in Horry County.

This is especially true in the case of the tourism tax where citizens are forced to pay increased taxes in order to reduce the marketing budgets of Myrtle Beach hoteliers and golf course owners.

Charleston County School District Budget Problems

The Charleston County School District thinks it has found a way to close the continuing $18 million projected shortfall in its budget.

School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait told local media money in the capital fund could be moved to the general operating fund to help solve the shortfall with no impact on taxpayers.

According to a board member with knowledge of the plan, capital fund millage would be reduced with a corresponding increase in operating fund millage.

The idea is the overall plan to shift millage would be revenue neutral, thereby prompting the claim that taxpayers would not be affected.

However, this solution appears to fly in the face of Act 388 of 2006, which limited school budget operation fund taxation.

Act 388 specifically exempts owner occupied residences, what is known as 4% property, from taxation by school districts for operating funds. Only rental or second homes (6% property) and businesses (10%) property may be taxed for school operating funds.

The state raised the sales tax by one cent, which is designated to be turned over to school districts, according to a complex formula, to make up for the loss of 4% property tax revenue from operations millage.

However, when it comes to the capital fund millage, all three classes of property are taxed.

In addition, Act 388 sets limits on the amount operations fund millage can be raised in any one year with another complex formula involved.

Therefore, it’s not just a simple reduction of millage for one fund with a corresponding increase in millage for another fund that can be made.

SC Supreme Court Slaps Down Alan Wilson

By a 4-1 margin, the SC Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Attorney General Alan Wilson had no authority to remove solicitor David Pascoe from a continuing investigation into corruption in the SC General Assembly.

The investigation began in 2014 and is reported to center around misuse of campaign funds and abuse of power for personal gain by what is called in yesterday’s opinion the “redacted legislators.”

The Attorney General recused himself from the case for possible conflict of interest in July 2015 and his office turned the investigation over to Pascoe. Pascoe, from that point, was acting as the “state’s highest prosecutor.”

The key finding stated, “The initial correspondence from the Attorney General’s Office to both Pascoe and Chief Keel in July 2015, stated, without reservation, that the Attorney General’s Office was recused from the redacted legislators investigation, leaving only Pascoe as the state’s highest prosecutor in that matter.”

In addition, the Court found transferring the case to Pascoe included the right to order a State Grand Jury investigation into the case. “Pascoe has met his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence he was vested with the authority to act as the Attorney General in the (probe), and that this authority necessarily included the power to initiate a state grand jury investigation.”

In March 2016, Wilson attempted to remove Pascoe from the case, attempting to replace him with a different solicitor who refused to take Pascoe’s place. At this point, Wilson attempted to politicize the issue by smearing Pascoe in the media.

Central to the issue was an attempt by Pascoe to initiate a Grand Jury investigation, something Wilson claimed only he had the authority to do. The Court tore apart Wilson’s interpretation of the State Grand Jury law.