The State: “Dark Money” Funding Anti-Tax Bill

  • “at best was deceptive, at worst was downright untrue.  It was a very clever, yet deceptive campaign.” Sen Shane Massey

  • “They were just giving them part of the story.” Sen. Katrina Shealy


  • “I really want to hear from my constituents. But what’s not healthy is when people (are) being told an absolute lie. When one group is funded by a couple of billionaires, it limits the ability of having free and open speech. The message then becomes one-sided. ” Sen. Larry Grooms

Continue reading “The State: “Dark Money” Funding Anti-Tax Bill”

Two Senators, 5 Questions About the Roads Bill

L&M asked Lexington County Senators Ronnie Cromer and Shane Massey five questions about the roads bill currently being finalized in the Senate.

The South Carolina Senate is nearing an agreement to fund road projects in the state.

1. Are in you favor of the bill?
2. What do you see as its strong points?
3. What are its weaknesses?
4. Is it sustainable?  That is, will it provide the funding for the years required to bring state, county and local roads up to par?
5. How do you see this affecting the court ordered fixes to rural schools?

Here are their responses :


Senator Ronnie Cromer   Ronnie Cromer
1. Are in you favor of the bill?

Yes, I was one of the Senators proposing it because we had stalled and could see no way out of the box we were in.Are in you favor of the bill?

2. What do you see as its strong points?

It gives the DOT the same amount of money that would have been realized out of the House passed Road’s bill without raising taxes, $400 million out of at least a $Billion surplus this year.

3. What are its weaknesses?

If we experience a down year, we may not have a sustainable source of funding.

4. Is it sustainable?  That is, will it provide the funding for the years required to bring state, county and local roads up to par?

See no. 3

5. How do you see this affecting the court ordered fixes to rural schools?

I do not see it affecting the court ordered opinion to fix rural schools.  The court said nothing about a proposed amount of funding.  We have many other issues affecting our rural schools that need to be fixed besides just funding.  However, if funding is found to be an issue, then we still have close to a $billion in surplus from this past budget year.

 


Senator Shane MasseyShane Massey

1. Are in you favor of the bill?

Yes, I’ll vote for it.

2. What do you see as its strong points?

The strongest part of the agreement is completely revamps the governing structure of SCDOT by having the governor appoint all members of the commission, and it makes the SIB more accountable by requiring SCDOT commission approval of all decisions. 

3. What are its weaknesses?

The biggest weakness, I think, is the funding mechanism.  The agreement uses $400M in recurring General Fund dollars to pay for infrastructure improvements.  That General Fund money will come, primarily, from income taxpayers.  So we’re not getting a contribution from nonresidents (as the gas tax would), we’re not collecting more from large trucks that cause more damage (as the truckers actually asked us to do), and it requires the few SC residents who pay income taxes to foot the bill.  It moves the ball forward, but it’s not great financial policy.

4. Is it sustainable?  That is, will it provide the funding for the years required to bring state, county and local roads up to par?

Yes, I am confident it is sustainable.  The BEA has certified that we’ll have more than $400M in additional recurring dollars, so I am comfortable with that.

5. How do you see this affecting the court ordered fixes to rural schools?

I don’t think this will really have an impact on the legislative response to the Abbeville decision.  We were most likely going to have tax relief in the neighborhood of $400M or so.  This deal means we’re probably not going to get that tax relief.  I don’t think it impacts education at all, though.



 

[Editorial] Who Does Joe Wilson Represent?

Last month, Congress approved and President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, also known as the omnibus spending bill, funding the government through September.

The Omnibus Bill has been as vilified by conservatives as it has celebrated by liberals.  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been labeled a “sell out” for his role in pushing the 2,000 page, $1.8 trillion legislation through.  With 316 House members voting for and 113 voting against it took 61% of House Republicans joining with 90% of the 166 Democrats to pass it.

Among the seven member South Carolina House delegation, Democrat Jim Clyburn united with left-of-center Republican Tom Rice (R-7) and Joe Wilson.

joe wilson
(Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)

Joe Wilson?

Wilson, 68, is running for his 10th term representing South Carolina’s 2nd District, an area stretching from Columbia to the Savannah River.  The Second District is very Republican and very conservative with considerable Tea Party influence.  This makes Wilson’s vote for the omnibus bill all the more curious.

President Obama’s readiness to sign the legislation along with the support of such liberal luminaries as Nancy Pelosi, Jim Clyburn and, on the Senate side, Harry Reid should be plenty of reason to cause Wilson’s constituents (like me) to question why he supported it.  Of South Carolina’s Senators, only Lindsey Graham voted in favor while Tim Scott opposed.  Even Graham’s buddy, John McCain voted “no” for what has been called a back room deal written by lobbyists.

In his official statement following passage, Wilson said:

“This funding bill is a tremendous victory for American families. I am grateful that this legislation fights for our conservative principles—lifts the ban on domestic oil export, prevents new funding for Obamacare, upholds pro-life values, and stops the IRS from suppressing the civic participation of 501(c)(4) organizations.

 “It also provides critical protections for national security and prevents the President from closing Guantanamo Bay or transferring any detainees. South Carolina families benefit from this legislation: the funding bill also provides key funding for the construction and operation of the MOX facility, gives stability to operations at the Savannah River Site, and supports the thousands of service members and their families at Fort Jackson.”  

It appears the Congressman was merely spitting out vapid, CYA talking points that makes me wonder if he even read the bill.  There are many points of contention about why the Omnibus Bill is so bad, though, to be fair, it does have a few good qualities.  Those few, however, don’t redeem the greater bad.

Following are excerpts from statements by others in the Palmetto State’s delegation:

Jeff Duncan (3rd District)

“Congress folded like a cheap suit and gave the President practically everything he wanted. Voting “no” on this Omnibus spending bill was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in Congress. The bill catered to Washington’s desires while completely ignoring the concerns of the American people.

The White House is creating a national security disaster through its refugee and visa programs, yet Congress lacked the will to stand up and put a stop to it in order to protect our citizens. In a tragic betrayal of the people’s trust, Congress will actually spend more money under a Republican controlled Senate than it did when the Senate was controlled by Democrats.

“Some Members of the Congress are so risk averse that they will agree to anything to avoid a government shutdown. Unfortunately, when Members of Congress worry more about keeping their jobs than standing up for freedom, the American people lose every time.

“This is a blow to our Constitution and our entire system of government. I am ashamed that there weren’t more Members joining with me to oppose this horrible bill.”

Trey Gowdy (4th District)

“Less than 6 months removed from last summer’s so called debt crisis – we are on the verge yet again of committing an act of generational embezzlement.  We are $16 trillion in debt because we refuse to have a serious conversation about the role of government versus the obligations of the individual.  We want to live in a land with unlimited personal freedom yet Congress lacks the courage and the discipline to require a corresponding measure of personal responsibility.

“I fear the political leaders of today have become profiles in timidity and greed.”

Mark Sanford (1st District)

“The omnibus bill that we just voted on today represented the culmination of a budget breakdown in Washington and, in many ways, showed the degree to which the debt, deficit, and government spending are currently seen as secondary issues in this town.

“It reversed our country’s prohibition on the export of crude oil designed to foster energy independence…which makes sense until one considers concurrent federal activity off our coast designed to open up oil leases. To me, it doesn’t make sense to open up drilling off the coast of South Carolina under the pretense of a move towards energy independence, only to have what might be extracted sent to France.

“The bill allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue its land-grab by allowing it to keep its expanded definition of “waters of the United States.” I have long been a proponent of the environment, but the resulting expanded jurisdiction of the EPA will have far-reaching negative effects in low lying areas of South Carolina.”

Tim Scott

“Most importantly, today’s omnibus did not address the question of Syrian refugees in any meaningful manner. This was the best opportunity Congress had to reach some sort of consensus on the matter, and this deal flat fails to do so. I truly believe that by failing to put meaningful controls on the refugee program and ensure fail-safe background checks on Syrians, we are putting our national security at risk.

“Additionally, since coming to Congress I have consistently voted against stopgap spending bills that do not address our nation’s fiscal issues or address the President’s reckless agenda. Today Congress busted spending caps and allowed the EPA’s regulatory state to continue.”

Capitol-OmnibusIt’s worthwhile to look at the specifics Rep Wilson cited as reason for supporting the bill.

  • “Lifts the ban on domestic oil export”

The good provision is a very good provision, indeed. Lifting the crude oil export ban would generate more jobs for Americans, supply the United States and the world with more affordable energy, and provide important geopolitical benefits for Washington and its allies.

But the numerous bad provisions waste taxpayer money and provide targeted tax credits to politically connected companies.

A handout for the oil industry. The legislation would provide a targeted tax credit for small, independent refiners and allow independents to exempt 75 percent of transportation costs when calculating their Section 199 manufacturing deductions. This is nothing more than obvious compensation for lifting the ban on crude oil exports.

Absent from the text are provisions that would block the Obama administration’s climate change regulations, regulations that will drive up energy costs no climate benefit. Instead, the federal government has hundreds of millions of dollars to dole out internationally through the Climate Investment Fund and Strategic Climate Fund. Notably missing from the omnibus spending bill is a provision prohibiting spending on the Green Climate Fund. [The Daily Signal]

  • “Prevents new funding for Obamacare”

Kinda, but not really.  The legislation provides a two-year delay in the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost health insurance policies that labor unions were pleading to repeal; a two-year delay in the medical device tax that is drying up research budgets in this critical industry; and a one-year delay in the Health Insurance Tax (HIT). [Forbes]

That’s not the same thing as denying new funding.

  • “Upholds pro-life values”

The deal allows hundreds of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates.

  • “Stops the IRS from suppressing the civic participation of 501(c)(4) organizations.”

This is a bit overstated.  Section 127 denies the Internal Revenue Service funds “to issue, revise, or finalize any regulation, revenue ruling, or other guidance not limited to a particular taxpayer relating to the standard which is used to determine whether an organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare for purposes of section 501(c)(4)…”

This is a response to the scandal in which the IRS targeted conservative non-profits to delay if not deny tax-exempt status.  In reality, the IRS can slow down the process without funding, so this line item is more show than substance.

  • “Provides critical protections for national security and prevents the President from closing Guantanamo Bay or transferring any detainees.”

Not really …

“SEC. 527. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act ma(y be used to transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release to or within the United States, its territories, or possessions Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee.”

This means detainees CAN continue to be transferred to other countries.

Nor does it restrict the Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice grants to cities that resist the enforcement of federal immigration law, also known as sanctuary cities.

  • “South Carolina families benefit from this legislation: the funding bill also provides key funding for the construction and operation of the MOX facility, gives stability to operations at the Savannah River Site,

The Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site is behind schedule and over budget.  The Omnibus Bill retains the $345 million, but of the $345 million designated, $5 million is to investigate alternatives to the facility’s purpose.

  •  “…supports the thousands of service members and their families at Fort Jackson.”

It is unclear what Rep Wilson meant by stating that the bill “supports the thousands of service members and their families at Fort Jackson” unless he means the 1.3% pay increase for the military and federal civilian employees.  According to Military Times,For an E-4 with three years of service, the raise means about $350 more in take-home pay next year. An O-4 with 12 years will get about $1,090 more.

That’s 95 cents a day – $29 a month – for enlisted personnel.  Is this Joe Wilson’s idea of “support(ing)” service members and their families?

Given the demographics of South Carolina’s Second Congressional District, it is unimaginable for Rep Wilson to support a Barack Obama-friendly piece of legislation.

Was he not paying attention?

Was he influenced by special interests?

Was he persuaded by the new Speaker of the House?

Was it poor judgement?

Whatever the reason, it’s very difficult to see how the Second District was represented in his vote.

Taxes Are Ugly, Lies Are Uglier

Taxes are ugly.

I don’t like taxes. I don’t want new taxes. I DO want solutions to community problems.

LCCW Pamphlet
LCCW Pamphlet – Click to enlarge

I also don’t like lies; more so than my distaste for taxes.  The self-described Lexington County Citizens Watch is telling lies about the town’s proposed hospitality tax.  Apparently, the organization (run by non-residents of the Town of Lexington) is distributing pamphlets calling for citizens to oppose the tax.  Town Council members are getting calls about them from constituents.  When the contents of the pamphlet are shared with Council members, the recipients are surprised to hear that the truth and the contents of the letter are at odds.

The pamphlet complains about turning parts of Highway 6 and church street into one-way roads.  While it’s true that sections of those roads will be one-way, it’s only 1/3 of a mile!  And the point is to eliminate left turns at the center of town.  Left turns slow traffic and are dangerous, points lost to LCCW.

They also make the claim that, somehow, this routing will “flood” neighborhoods with more traffic.  That is not true.  The Church Street one-way route will move traffic across Maiden Lane back to Highway 6, not through neighborhoods.  The LCCW is intentionally misleading people with their hyperbolic misrepresentations.

LCCW also has a sophomoric online petition that includes the following:

Whereas a new tax is the worst thing for our fragile economy;
Because a higher sales tax will drive business out of town;
Whereas, traffic circles and one way streets are not what Lexington needs;

The tax will, in reality, have zero effect on the economy whereas ever-worsening traffic congestion DOES negatively impact on businesses.  Does the LCCW not know that the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce unanimously endorses the H-Tax as proposed as a solution to the town’s traffic problems? Yeah, the GLCoC is all about driving businesses out of town and levying a massive tax burden on a crushed economy.

Lexington County has one of the most robust economies in South Carolina including the lowest unemployment rate and one of – if not THE – highest rate of new home construction.  More communities are petitioning to be annexed into the town.  With this economic energy comes more people and more vehicles.  More traffic.

The LCCW evidently considers the citizens of Lexington to be pathetically stupid by trying to convince them the tax “will drive businesses out of town.” If that were even remotely true, Harbison would be a ghost town, as would the (exploding) Vista in downtown Columbia.  You see, Richland County’s 2% tax on prepared foods was enacted in 2003. So, if you eat at Longhorn’s, Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, British Bulldog, Hu Hot, Liberty Steakhouse, Wet Willie’s or anywhere else in those two areas, you are hallucinating because the all-knowing LCCW contends that they were driven out because of the hospitality tax that was in place before they opened.  How many of you refuse to eat at Harbison or in the Vista because of their 2% Hospitality Tax?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

The LCCW also pronounced that “traffic circles and one way streets are not what Lexington needs.”  Now, in addition to being economists, business experts and municipal strategists, they are now traffic and civil engineers.  What DOES Lexington need, Citizen’s Watch?  How about ruby slippers for everyone so, at the end of the work day, we click our heels and get magically transferred home?

Compared to the Town which identified traffic as a top priority in 2002, how much time and effort have opponents to the tax in general and the LCCW in particular spent researching the “needs” of Lexington?

Further, the LCCW has stupidly mocked those who point out that the three proposed intersections will be safer.  The facts, however (the bane of the LCCW), say otherwise.

Like surgery, taxes are always unwanted but sometimes necessary.  This is one of the necessary times.  Just as physical ailments often can’t wait be healed by time alone, our traffic problems WILL become chronic.  Hoping or waiting for a miracle to shrink a tumor or heal a damaged organ when surgery is the only option is akin to assuming that state or county money will fall from the sky and land in Lexington’s bank account to fix our roads.

The Lexington County Citizens Watch complains about the tax, but offers no valid alternative to fixing the problem.  Like the goofball cousin that knows everything without really knowing anything, the LCCW is trying to convince people that there is no problem, yet they know best how to fix it.

I voted against the county penny tax last year because it was tainted, bloated and I was suspicious.  What the Lexington Town Council is proposing is none of that.  If it were even close, I would oppose it, too and if it every comes to that, I’ll be louder in opposition than anyone.  The Council has done its homework and learned the lesson that the County experience taught.

All citizens of the Town of Lexington are urged to look into the facts, not bend to emotion or outside propaganda.  Research the issue and attend the meetings being held to educate the community.  The next meeting will be Monday, August 24 – 6:00pm in the Conference Center of the Lexington Municipal Complex, 111 Maiden Lane.

Some types of ugly may be unattractive, but other types of ugly are so hideous they will never be tolerable.