Carolina Ledger http://carolinaledger.com following the money. finding answers. Mon, 15 Oct 2018 21:27:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://carolinaledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/cropped-cropped-Favicon21-150x150.jpg Carolina Ledger http://carolinaledger.com 32 32 Saying goodbye–The Carolina Ledger to close in October http://carolinaledger.com/2018/09/11/saying-goodbye-the-carolina-ledger-to-close-in-october/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/09/11/saying-goodbye-the-carolina-ledger-to-close-in-october/#respond Tue, 11 Sep 2018 20:43:11 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3976 Long before The Carolina Ledger began in 2011, political junkies across the spectrum in South Carolina condemned the state’s tradition of conducting political business in secret. So, in 2010, I decided to be a part of pulling back the curtain of South Carolina politics by providing context on how tax dollars are spent and by […]

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Long before The Carolina Ledger began in 2011, political junkies across the spectrum in South Carolina condemned the state’s tradition of conducting political business in secret.

So, in 2010, I decided to be a part of pulling back the curtain of South Carolina politics by providing context on how tax dollars are spent and by analyzing the reasons why.

the author

Jessica Cross

Together, we explored—

-The potential impact of expanding the state’s Medicaid program

-Political attempts at imposing disclosure on private groups’ donor lists

-Contracts between a gas tax activist group and the agency that builds and maintains South Carolina’s roads

(Best of The Carolina Ledger post roundup included below.)

But I won’t be writing about this anymore. At least, not for a little while. I’ll be closing The Carolina Ledger on October 15. No new articles will be added between now and then.

I’ve been battling severe multifactorial Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 2011. Some years have been better than others. This hasn’t been one of them.

But that’s okay, because after a short break, I plan to keep writing and editing—hopefully under luxuriously long deadlines. Actually, I don’t yet know exactly what the next step will look like.

I do know, however, that the state’s informed electorate has ready access to alternative media sources and to a daily press corp that is committed to bringing you the story despite the challenging (if rewarding) nature of reporting.

I’m thankful and humbled to have been able to write about the state’s most pressing issues for the past seven-plus years. I’m grateful for the support of my friends and family, and to the Ledger’s growing readership. I know you care as much as I do about making South Carolina a better, freer place to live.

Join me in a look back at the top eight stories The Carolina Ledger covered in eight years.

Jessica Cross lives and writes in the Columbia area. Connect with her on Twitter @jacrosssc.

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Best of The Carolina Ledger–A farewell and a post roundup http://carolinaledger.com/2018/09/11/best-of-the-carolina-ledger-a-farewell-and-a-post-roundup/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/09/11/best-of-the-carolina-ledger-a-farewell-and-a-post-roundup/#respond Tue, 11 Sep 2018 20:28:54 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3972 It’s been an honor bringing you news and analysis on fiscal politics in South Carolina for nearly eight years. On October 15, The Carolina Ledger will close. I have enjoyed writing about the fiscal issues that matter to South Carolinians. Thank you for following the money with us since 2011. Keep reading for a roundup […]

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It’s been an honor bringing you news and analysis on fiscal politics in South Carolina for nearly eight years. On October 15, The Carolina Ledger will close. I have enjoyed writing about the fiscal issues that matter to South Carolinians. Thank you for following the money with us since 2011.

Keep reading for a roundup of the top eight stories we covered during the past eight years.

8) Tax reform

A special state House committee to study and to advise the Legislature on restructuring the state’s sprawling tax code has been meeting since 2016. Updating the code to conform with federal tax law, a task legislators are mulling this year, and streamlining the state’s more than 70 exemptions are part of the committee’s work.

Who’s paying taxes in S.C. (and who isn’t?)

House panel weighs equity of property tax exemptions

Business community watchful as legislators plan restructured tax code

How a lower state sales tax could hurt the poor

 

7) Higher education spending

Entrance to the Moore School of Business at USC’s Columbia campus

State universities have hiked tuition repeatedly over the past decade, saying cuts in state funding haven’t fully recovered to pre-recession (2008) levels. Meanwhile, many schools have increased facilities construction to draw a growing out-of-state student population.

How USC’s population, facilities boomed in the early 2000s 

S.C. higher ed spends $58 M on travel in 2017

 

6) Public school spending and outcomes

Leadership, financial concerns drove state of emergency in Florence school district

Population driving school building boom

More money not enough to fix S.C. education woes

 

5) Officials reduce $21 B pension debt

Officials have made strides in narrowing the state’s more than $20 billion pension debt, including passing a 2017 law to increase contributions by employees and employers. Legislators have tinkered with the idea of freezing new entrants to the system, enrolling them instead in a 401(k) type of retirement plan.

Curtis Loftis speaks on pension

S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis speaks on the fate of the pension

Repairing our roads and retirement system—how much money is enough

Loftis, retirement system in “hot, hot water”

 

4) Ethics reform and the Statehouse corruption probe

Fear and intimidation in the Statehouse

Dark money. “It’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” say senators

It’s time to change how S.C. selects judges 

 

3) V.C. Summer nuclear project fails

Two utilities announced in 2017 they would abandon two nuclear reactors after spending $9 billion on them and charging customers at least $2 billion in rate hikes.

SCANA invests millions at the Statehouse

How lawmakers can protect ratepayers in the future

The real problem with “rogue agencies”

Why officials siding with utilities on solar is no surprise

What we’ve learned one year after two utilities quit Summer nuclear reactors 

 

2) Reviewing the impact of the Affordable Care Act on South Carolina

Protester displays Truthful Tuesday’s platform at January rally

Yes, we can afford to expand health care, say progressives 

Medicaid expansion critics say expansion not free long-term 

A routine checkup—Obamacare in S.C., by the numbers 

Breaking down Aetna’s flight from Obamacare (and what it means for S.C.’s insured)

 

1) The gas tax hike

After a controversial path to passage, a 2017 law increased the state’s then-16.75 cents-a-gallon gas tax by two cents annually for six years.

snoozing on Pamplico Highway

Nancy Cave pretends to nap in the middle of Pamplico Highway outside of Pamplico, S.C. Roads officials planned to widen a stretch of the highway as other S.C. routes deteriorated. Photo by the Coastal Conservation League.

Lying on the sleepy, narrow road from Pamplico 

Activists pay morning commuters’ gas tax, show how much drivers are paying in taxes

Legislative state weighed, found wanting in roads debate 

Roads funding group’s members banked millions in SCDOT contracts

Coalition of conservative groups, legislators to Senate—“tank the tax” 

Why you might not notice gas tax hike (and why that’s dangerous) 

SCDOT, anti-tax-hike activists at odds over status of new funding for roads 

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What we’ve learned one year after two utilities quit Summer nuclear reactors http://carolinaledger.com/2018/08/06/what-weve-learned-one-year-after-two-utilities-quit-summer-nuclear-reactors/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/08/06/what-weve-learned-one-year-after-two-utilities-quit-summer-nuclear-reactors/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 20:26:06 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3871 Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary when two of the state’s energy monopolies announced they would abandon construction of two nuclear reactors after spending $9 billion and 10 years on them. After a flurry of Statehouse hearings, now-public reports ensnaring the responsible parties, and lawsuits by stockholders and customers piling up, what have we really learned? […]

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Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary when two of the state’s energy monopolies announced they would abandon construction of two nuclear reactors after spending $9 billion and 10 years on them.

After a flurry of Statehouse hearings, now-public reports ensnaring the responsible parties, and lawsuits by stockholders and customers piling up, what have we really learned?

If we learned anything, I hope it’s this—utilities in South Carolina are a protected class, a handful of energy monopolies divvied up primarily along geographic lines.

Energy monopolies use the same political fuel as other local industries—lobbying efforts, campaign donations, and memberships in political action committees that work to elect their selection of candidates.

Those industries don’t belong to the utilities’ protected class, which lacks the competition that ultimately protects customers, however.

All the work by the General Assembly for the past year has centered on getting customers out of the morass enabled by policy makers and created by state-owned Santee Cooper and SCANA subsidiary, South Carolina Electric and Gas.

If legislators don’t begin disbanding these monopolies soon, it won’t matter whether customers make their checks payable to SCE&G or to some other company controlling large segments of the energy marketplace.

Sen. Shane Massey questions regulators on V.C. Summer nuclear

Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, questions regulators on V.C. Summer nuclear. Source: scstatehouse.gov live feed.

Virginia energy giant, Dominion Energy cleared one hurdle in its planned $14.6 billion SCANA buyout on Tuesday, when shareholders voted to approve the sale.

Customers fretting Dominion will use political prowess to buy up legislative influence needn’t worry more about purchasing from Dominion than from SCE&G, if state regulators approve the buyout this fall.

Dominion’s political action committee has been donating to Statehouse candidates for several years, already.

Cayce-based SCANA has been, also. So, too, do other utilities, including state and nationwide solar groups, which have been hailed as a possible alternative to the state’s energy woes.

The legislators tasked with investigating the V.C. Summer project’s shutdown received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from SCANA since 2008.

SCANA also paid more than $1 million to lobbyists from 2008 to 2017. A pro-utility law, which made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, sailed through the Legislature in 2007.

Dominion donated $12,000 to committees and candidates for state office from September through December, mere weeks before the utility announced its planned merger with SCANA. Dominion’s parent company, Dominion Resources, Inc. spent nearly $240,000 on lobbyists from 2015 through 2018, according to records by the State Ethics Commission.

Alternative energy companies also supply campaign accounts. The nationwide solar advocacy group, Alliance for Solar Choice donated $9,500 to candidates for state office during the past year, for instance.

The group spent more than $135,000 on lobbyists during the 2017-2018 legislative session, as handful of lawmakers touted the merits of alternative energy sources on behalf of customers who financed the Summer nuclear failure.

Utilities lobbied legislators in 2018 to easily defeat a measure to lift a two percent cap on rooftop solar energy generation, expanding solar energy statewide.

Despite the benefits to customers of expanding energy choices, even solar groups enjoy small protections under a law requiring utilities to provide energy credits for solar customers.

To date, SCE&G customers have paid at least $2 billion for a project that will never benefit them.

If legislators are serious about representing them, or any other energy customers, they need to become serious about removing the energy market’s impediments to choice.

Related

The real problem with “rogue agencies”

How real energy reform died in 2018

 

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McMaster order continues family planning services, ends abortion clinics as Medicaid providers http://carolinaledger.com/2018/07/13/mcmaster-order-continues-family-planning-services-ends-abortion-clinics-as-medicaid-providers/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/07/13/mcmaster-order-continues-family-planning-services-ends-abortion-clinics-as-medicaid-providers/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 17:36:09 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3862 Updated 3:10 p.m. Family planning services will continue to be available under an executive order by Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Columbia. That order, signed on Friday, also directs one state agency to sever abortion clinics from the Medicaid program. McMaster directed the state Department of Health and Human Services to use money carried over from last […]

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Updated 3:10 p.m.

Family planning services will continue to be available under an executive order by Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Columbia.

That order, signed on Friday, also directs one state agency to sever abortion clinics from the Medicaid program.

McMaster directed the state Department of Health and Human Services to use money carried over from last year’s budget to continue its Family Planning program. McMaster vetoed nearly $16 million in Family Planning dollars in the agency’s budget one week earlier because some of those dollars fund clinics that perform abortions.

Under the program, preventative health care, birth control and permanent sterilization would continue to be available to families living at or below 194 percent of the federal poverty level—nearly $49,000 in annual household income for a family of four.

Although the State should not contract with abortion clinics for family planning services, the State also should not deny South Carolinians access to necessary medical care and important women’s health and family planning services, which are provided by a variety of other non-governmental entities and governmental agencies,” McMaster said in a statement on Friday.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Columbia in September, when they may take up McMaster’s vetoes—42 line items in the roughly $8 billion budget.

Related

Planned Parenthood by the numbers

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SCE&G customers could see $31 M per month in rate relief for failed nuclear project http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/28/sceg-customers-could-see-31-m-in-partial-temporary-rate-relief-for-failed-nuclear-project/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/28/sceg-customers-could-see-31-m-in-partial-temporary-rate-relief-for-failed-nuclear-project/#respond Thu, 28 Jun 2018 22:04:25 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3852 Updated 10:01 p.m. Customers of one S.C. utility are set to see rates cut by nearly 15 percent, after legislators on Thursday rejected Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a bill to give temporary rate relief. The cut gives customers roughly $31 million in rate relief monthly until regulators decide later this year how a bungled […]

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Updated 10:01 p.m.

Customers of one S.C. utility are set to see rates cut by nearly 15 percent, after legislators on Thursday rejected Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a bill to give temporary rate relief.

The cut gives customers roughly $31 million in rate relief monthly until regulators decide later this year how a bungled nuclear project should be paid for. But that cut could face a legal challenge by the utility in charge of the project.

Customers have been paying an extra 18 percent on their monthly bills for the project.

The new law repeals, prospectively, the 2007 law that made it easier for South Carolina Electric and Gas—and other utilities—to hike rates to fund projects like the two Fairfield County nuclear reactors abandoned in July by SCE&G and its junior partner, state-owned Santee Cooper.


It is unacceptable, irresponsible, and unconscionable for any South Carolinian to pay another dime to SCANA for the abandoned V.C. Summer reactors in Fairfield County.
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To be clear, I applaud the General Assembly for including several critical reform initiatives in this legislation, such as strengthening the Office of Regulatory Staff and restoring the role of the consumer advocate for future utility cases,” wrote McMaster in his veto message to the state House.

However, I am vetoing this bill because it is unacceptable, irresponsible, and unconscionable for any South Carolinian to pay another dime to SCANA for the abandoned V.C. Summer reactors in Fairfield County.”

The House overrode McMaster’s veto 110 to 1. The lone dissenting vote was from Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville. The Senate rejected the veto 39 to 0.

McMaster, who narrowly won the Republican primary runoff for governor on Tuesday, repeatedly promised to veto any bill that didn’t cut SCE&G’s rate by 18 percent.

This is nothing but a political move by our governor,” said Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews.

Ott, vice chairman of a special House committee to review the nuclear debacle, said McMaster’s veto was to make him look a lot stronger and tougher on the issue than he is.

The House version of the bill aimed for an 18 percent cut, but Senate leaders originally opted for a 13 percent cut that was considered able to withstand a legal challenge. Senators also had aimed for rate relief that wouldn’t doom the Cayce utility.

The law will slash customer rates by 14.81 percent until the matter is scheduled for review by the Public Service Commission by December 21. The PSC, overseen by a group of three members of the public and six legislators, already has approved nine rate increases to pay for the project.

The bill also creates a consumer advocate for customers and more clearly defines “prudent” and “imprudent.” Under the 2007 law, SCE&G has maintained its actions—including pursuing abandonment—were prudent.

The new law could jeopardize Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s plan to buyout SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA.

Dominion CEO said in a Wednesday statement—

The South Carolina Legislature is playing a high-stakes game where they are gambling with the money of customers and taxpayers. Legislators are risking cash payments to SCE&G’s electric customers of $1.3 billion–equal to $1,000 for the typical residential customer – and a permanent rate reduction of 7 percent. They are jeopardizing total customer benefits of more than $12 billion and another $19 billion in economic activity. And, they are promoting continued turmoil for South Carolina’s energy and business future. All of this for a few headlines and a temporary rate reduction that has good odds of being overturned in court. It is a disappointing and short-sighted action that is counter to the best interests of South Carolina and its people.”

Regulators and SCANA shareholders must approve the merger. According to a deal outlined in January by the two utilities, shareholders could gain more than six-tenths of a Dominion share for every SCANA share held.

SCANA shareholders are set to meet at the end of July, one year after SCE&G abandoned the nuclear project.

SCANA and SCE&G are evaluating legal options in response to the legislation, which cleared a House-Senate conference committee Wednesday after weeks of gridlock.

The businesses have said they believe the legislation is unconstitutional.

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SCDOT, anti-tax-hike activists at odds over status of new funding for roads http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/21/scdot-anti-tax-hike-activists-at-odds-over-status-of-new-funding-for-roads/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/21/scdot-anti-tax-hike-activists-at-odds-over-status-of-new-funding-for-roads/#respond Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:42:42 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3837 The Transportation Department’s 10-year plan to repair South Carolina’s crumbling roadways is ahead of schedule, the agency said on Tuesday. But opponents to a 12-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase, implemented through a law that took effect last summer, say those funds may not solely be maintaining existing infrastructure, as promised. That tax is set to be […]

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Screenshot of SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall at an April commission meeting. Source: scdot.org.

The Transportation Department’s 10-year plan to repair South Carolina’s crumbling roadways is ahead of schedule, the agency said on Tuesday.

But opponents to a 12-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase, implemented through a law that took effect last summer, say those funds may not solely be maintaining existing infrastructure, as promised. That tax is set to be phased in by two cents annually.

The cost of the amount of road work in progress on S.C.’s highways is more than $3 billion—three times that of normal levels, according to a news release by the SCDOT.

“We are now one year into a strategic 10-year repair and reconstruction program designed to start the long journey to improve and repair our 42,000-mile highway system that includes just over 8,400 bridges with new and sustainable funding that we have not had for 30 years,” agency secretary, Christy Hall said in a statement.

The now-18.75 cents-a-gallon gas tax had not been raised, prior to 2017, since the 1980s.

That funding stream—a law to draw an extra $625 million annually upon full implementation—is facing a legal challenge over whether it relates to more than one subject, a violation of state law.

At an April SCDOT Commission meeting, Hall told commissioners, “The SIB (State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, or STIB) has expressed concerns over the ability to actually bond any of those Act 275 or Act 40 revenues in this whole unresolved lawsuit issue.”

There’s questions over the real availability of being able to bond those revenue streams, which calls into question our ability to service that planned debt load through the infrastructure bank,” she said.

Act 40—the 2017 gas tax package that also raised several motor vehicle fees—was hailed as a stable funding solution to S.C.’s infrastructure problems. Legislative leaders promised it would be used solely for repairing existing roads. Act 275 is a 2016 law that leverages projects costing more than $25 million through STIB loans.

An SCDOT spokesman was unavailable for an immediate comment on Tuesday afternoon. The spokesman did not respond by Thursday morning to an email sent on Tuesday with several questions, including one following up on Hall’s April comments.

The conservative think tank, the South Carolina Policy Council in June questioned where the new gas tax funds are actually going, citing Hall’s comments at the commission meeting.

During the year since the bill took effect, the gas tax hike has raised over $219 million, according to reports by the Comptroller General’s office. However, only a fraction has been spent, most of which was passed on to the counties. As of April 2018, only $537,110 has been used for actual road project disbursements,” the group’s analysis stated.

That would make sense in the context of the plan to put new tax dollars into the STIB instead of directly toward road repair. The STIB can leverage that money into ten times the amount – which means that the more revenue accumulates, the more STIB can then generate via bonding.”

A trust fund that tax-hike supporters said would be reserved solely for maintenance now contains roughly $233.8 million, according to the SCDOT’s May statement. The agency has distributed more than $19 million, most of which local governments have received.

The agency has built several transparency initiatives, including providing a detailed agency checkbook and a list of projects—by county—to be funded through the new gas tax funds.

A project’s implementation can take years, making it seem like long-neglected road maintenance is lagging.

But that explanation doesn’t satisfy tax-hike critics, who think the 2017 law created a slush fund for the STIB to create new infrastructure.

Text of the 2017 gas tax law. Source: scstatehouse.gov.

 

 

In fact, according to the law, the SCDOT may commit debt “into a special fund to be used for the sole purpose of paying the principal and interest, as it comes due, on bonds issued for the construction or maintenance of state highways, or both. This special account will be designated as the State Highway Construction Debt Service Fund.”

The agency is using a combination of federal and state funds, including funds from the tax increase, to complete its 10-year plan. That plan targets several programs, including a Rural Road Safety Program. The state’s rural roads are notoriously deadly. The agency said it has contracts targeting 187 miles of rural safety improvements.

Hall said in the Tuesday statement that the projects categorized under the 10-year plan were ranked by agency engineers, instead of being determined by politics, as tax-hike critics have warned.

Secretary Hall’s comments are between minutes 21 and 24 on part two of the April meeting.

Related: 

Why you might not notice gas tax hike (and why that’s dangerous)

3 things to know about new trust fund in 12-cent gas tax hike

 

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A voter’s primer on ending government corruption http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/11/a-voters-primer-on-ending-government-corruption/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/11/a-voters-primer-on-ending-government-corruption/#respond Mon, 11 Jun 2018 21:43:43 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3829 Voters hoping to drain the so-called swamp in Columbia need more than to replace incumbents with new blood on Tuesday. They need the glorification that characterizes public office to end. Voting out incumbents—like the four influential Republicans ensnared in a Statehouse corruption probe, leading to their resignation—lures us into a feeling of security that government […]

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Voters hoping to drain the so-called swamp in Columbia need more than to replace incumbents with new blood on Tuesday.

They need the glorification that characterizes public office to end.

Voting out incumbents—like the four influential Republicans ensnared in a Statehouse corruption probe, leading to their resignation—lures us into a feeling of security that government corruption is being addressed.

It isn’t.

We might also be drawn by the promise of stricter ethics laws, which have some inherent goodness, but have done very little to prevent real or perceived government corruption to date.

We could—as governor-hopeful Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, hopes to—end the Statehouse-lobbyist pipeline.

And that would be a good start.

But it won’t change the mindset of professional politicians. Politicians, for example, whose eyes sparkle from the Senate floor when bragging on their “august,” or impressive, institution.

Widely-respected veteran Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, pleaded guilty in early June to misconduct in office. Courson was the latest legislator to resign in the Statehouse probe.

Indictments against Courson alleged the political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates made payments to Courson of more than $150,000 after he paid the firm nearly $250,000 from 2006 to 2012.

His crime?

Ultimately, a reporting “error,” according to Courson’s statement to reporters.

Whether Courson’s error was deliberate is likely unknowable. But the matter underscores the idea that our political leaders are not, as they should be, above reproach.

Here’s how the state’s electorate can change that—

End the legislative state

Calling on legislators to give up power may seem like an exercise in futility, but it’s probably the best place for voters to apply pressure.

We can have all the ethics laws we want, but they don’t seem to change behavior.

The U.S. and most states apply term limits to the executive branch to limit executive power. Our lawmakers should be term limited, also, restricting potential conflicts of interest and returning citizen-legislators home after their allotted time of service has lapsed.

Balancing power among the three branches is essential to reining in the legislative state. Changing how S.C. picks judges—legislatively—is a good start, as the Statehouse corruption probe continues unfolding.


South Carolina government, with its $8 billion-a-year budget, is a government that tries to be all things to all people, and does it badly.
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Scale down the size of government

South Carolina government, with its $8 billion-a-year budget, is a government that tries to be all things to all people, and does it badly.

School districts get roughly $13,000 per student—on par with a high-end private education—but produce sub par results. Often, some of the worst performing districts absorb more taxpayer funds than the best.

The state issues cumbersome mandates to the local governments it fails to fully fund.

The retirement system debt ballooned to more than $20 billion before legislators in 2017 increased contributions to shore up the debt. That indebted system is still awaiting restructuring.

Increasing local government control would alleviate some of these issues. The simplest form of government that is closest to the people offers the best chance at accountability.

Related:

The public–not laws–prevents public corruption

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S.C.’s state fiscal transparency website 9th in national survey http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/22/s-c-s-state-fiscal-transparency-website-9th-in-national-survey/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/22/s-c-s-state-fiscal-transparency-website-9th-in-national-survey/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 15:53:17 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3821 South Carolina ranks ninth in a national survey of state fiscal transparency websites, according to a report by two groups advocating good government. The report, by U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, reviewed how successful states are at providing online public access to government spending records. State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s fiscal transparency […]

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South Carolina ranks ninth in a national survey of state fiscal transparency websites, according to a report by two groups advocating good government.

The report, by U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, reviewed how successful states are at providing online public access to government spending records.

CG Richard Eckstrom

Official photo of Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom

State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s fiscal transparency site scored an 87 percent, with S.C. as one of only six states to provide the public with an annual financial report that summarizes state finances.

Open-records requests declined by two-thirds upon the creation of Eckstrom’s transparency website in 2008, saving time invested by staff and saving an estimated tens of thousands of dollars, the non-profit groups reported.

S.C. is also among few states that pulls from its existing budget to create and maintain its website, according to the report.

Some states have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their transparency websites,” said Eckstrom in a statement.

But we’ve always used existing internal resources for our site to save taxpayers money. This report proves that it’s not necessary to spend lots of money on a high-priced website to provide high-quality information to the public.”

We could make an ‘A’ this coming year if we receive credit for new information we’ve recently added that provides details on financial incentives the state awards to attract film productions in South Carolina,” said Eckstrom, a certified public accountant.

A lot of work goes into keeping the site up to date and constantly improving it with information that’s not just new but that’s also useful to the public,” he said, praising his staff. “My staff tackles that challenge head on.”

The transparency site serves as the state’s public checkbook, providing detailed information about agency spending, including payments to vendors.

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How real energy reform died in 2018 http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/11/how-real-energy-reform-died-in-2018/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/11/how-real-energy-reform-died-in-2018/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 19:05:05 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3815 Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year. Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market. The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from […]

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Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year.

Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market.

The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from independent producers if power could be obtained cheaper that way. Aimed at cost savings to ratepayers, the bill didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing until April. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, long after the deadline for the bill to cross over to the House and be eligible for consideration.

The Senate approved the proposal after the Beaufort Republican attached it onto an energy oversight bill on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, senators tried to skirt Davis’ amendment by attaching the oversight proposal onto a separate bill that would repeal the 2007 Base Load Review Act prospectively. That law made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, whether or not they reach completion.

As a result, ratepayers are continuing to pay for two abandoned Fairfield County nuclear reactors.

Lawmakers have pursued only short-term solutions to the problem, said Davis. “We have done nothing, in my judgement, to address the underlying problem,” said Davis, who responded with a third attempt at passage. He tacked his proposal onto the repeal bill.

Ultimately, the Senate refused the cost savings proposal 27-17.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey agreed with Davis’ solution. But the Edgefield Republican fretted including the proposal would threaten the bill’s passage, just hours short of the official end of session.

The bill failed to clear both chambers before the end of the day, anyhow. The House rejected the Senate’s version, forcing it to a conference committee, where senators and House members can hash out their differences.

Legislators are scheduled to return to the Statehouse later in May and June to take up a limited number of bills, including the budget and legislation tied to the nuclear project.

But any chance at substantive energy reform policy in South Carolina is dead for the year.

Sen. Shane Martin, R-Pauline, buoyed Davis’ side of the debate, citing retirement system reform as an example of why lawmakers shouldn’t wait to pass energy reform.

Lawmakers in 2017 passed legislation to shore up the state pension’s more than $20 billion deficit, funding the $28 billion plan with more contributions and reducing the debt repayment schedule. A joint Statehouse committee planned a phase two fix to the plan, eventually considering overhauling how the retirement system is structured.

That committee last met in February, and lawmakers advanced no significant retirement reforms in 2018.

I will not get another chance,” said Davis.

Ratepayers likely won’t either.

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Senate approves two nuclear reforms as session winds down http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/10/senate-approves-two-nuclear-reforms-as-session-winds-down/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/10/senate-approves-two-nuclear-reforms-as-session-winds-down/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 20:07:57 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3803 Updated 5:04 p.m. Repealing the law that led to V.C. Summer and its abandonment The 2007 law used to justify charging ratepayers more than $2 billion for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County is one step closer to repeal. On Thursday, with roughly three hours left in the two-year legislative session, the S.C. Senate […]

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Updated 5:04 p.m.

Repealing the law that led to V.C. Summer and its abandonment

The 2007 law used to justify charging ratepayers more than $2 billion for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County is one step closer to repeal.

On Thursday, with roughly three hours left in the two-year legislative session, the S.C. Senate voted to repeal the law and clearly define the terms, prudent and imprudent.

The House responded by tacking onto the bill an amendment to strip all 18 percent of one utility’s rate hikes under the decade-old law, eventually forcing it to a conference committee. A similar rate cut proposal is gridlocked in conference committee, where senators are insisting on a 13 percent rate cut.

The project’s senior partner, South Carolina Electric and Gas has maintained its actions—including abandonment—were prudent under the Base Load Review Act, which passed easily through the House and Senate.
Under the bill, the Public Service Commission, which arbitrates rate cases, would judge whether current and future petitions are “prudent.” In other words, commissioners would be tasked with determining whether a utility is exercising a “high standard of caution, care, and diligence,” according to the bill.

 

Previously, the BLRA lacked a clear definition for those terms.

The repeal, however, would apply only to future petitions before the PSC.

A consumer advocate with a single mission

A second Senate-passed bill would create a consumer advocate to act solely on behalf of ratepayers.

Lawmakers responding to the $9 billion nuclear debacle have said the Office of Regulatory Staff, which is currently tasked with protecting ratepayers, has a conflicted mission.

The agency is also concerned with the welfare of the utilities and with economic development. The bill would streamline the agency’s mission by abolishing those two tasks.

Additionally, the bill would give ORS subpoena power to demand utilities release documents needed to defend ratepayers.

The two-year legislative session ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday. But legislators may reconvene in May and June to take up the budget and V.C. Summer related reforms.

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