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South Carolina editorial roundup

Posted April 12

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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April 6

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on the state gas tax:

Taxes on gasoline and other motor fuels are effectively user fees; motorists pay for using roads when they purchase gasoline or diesel fuel. In South Carolina, a healthy share of the total MFT revenue is collected from tourists.

One may reasonably argue the gasoline tax is regressive because all motorists pay the same rate, creating an economic burden on folks financially less well off, but the fact is all motorists pay their fair share. Increasing the rate per gallon for the first time in three decades should be as straightforward as the gasoline tax.

However, when gubernatorial politics are injected into an issue, the difficulty factor increases. Here's the score on the 16-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax: The S.C. House of Representatives in March passed a roads bill, including a 10-cent gas tax increase, by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 97-18. The measure is pending in the Senate. Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster threatened to veto the bill if and when it reaches him.

So much for many legislators' optimism that McMaster would be more reasonable, more likely to cooperate with legislators, than Nikki Haley. Now the nation's ambassador to the United Nations, Haley as governor opposed increasing the gas tax — to the extreme of being personal toward Republican legislators — although she did approve borrowing money for highway construction and repairs.

House Speaker Jay Lucas properly notes that McMaster would continue a poor pattern of borrowing to fix roads, which places the cost solely on S.C. taxpayers "... and not on out-of-state motorists who use and deteriorate our crumbling roads. Borrowing more money ... will not serve as a permanent solution to our infrastructure crisis."

Until last week, McMaster played coy about legislative priorities, saying, as one would expect from a candidate, that any tax increase should be an absolute last resort. Well, of course. Rather than increase the measly gasoline tax, borrow money — a whole lot — through a bond bill for overdue repairs to university and other state buildings. Fixing state buildings is "very important, but not urgent," McMaster proclaimed, roads are urgent because of their link to commerce and safety. He wants to tell voters in 2018 that he stopped a tax increase.

Make no mistake, the 2018 gubernatorial campaign is in full swing. McMaster was in the Myrtle Beach area on unofficial (campaign) business the day before his veto threat. On the same day, Catherine Templeton formally announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination, opposing McMaster. Templeton was Haley's appointed director of the Department of Health & Environmental Control and the Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation.

In the Senate, other complications must be resolved, including a proposed 12-cent increase from the Finance Committee. Some senators are blocking debate, for no better reason than knee-jerk opposition to a tax increase. Some senate and all house seats have elections in 2018. That's why a reasonable gasoline tax increase must be approved this year and sent to the governor — with a margin large enough to override McMaster's promised veto.

Online: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/

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April 9

The Herald of Rock Hill on "flex time" at high schools:

For many high school students, after-school activities are out of reach. They can't get a ride, they have to work or they just have other commitments that prevent them from devoting time to clubs, career planning or other activities after the official school day is over.

To help those students find a way to participate, many school districts in the state are adopting what is known as a Flexible Learning Experience - or Flex for short. Instead of waiting until after school, students can engage in a variety of activities during the day.

In York County, Fort Mill and Rock Hill school districts already offer Flex time during the day. The Fort Mill district gives students a one-hour lunch period on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and students can use the time to get tutored, take make-up tests and engage in other academic activities.

The Clover school district will experiment with Flex time during the last quarter of this school year. The district has been studying the advantages of offering more leeway during the school day for different activities, including club meetings.

A team of Clover district teachers and administrators went to Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Lexington high schools to see how Flex time worked there. Clover school board members have been initially positive about the project.

Use of the Flexible Learning Experience has increased around the state. This is indicative of an evolving approach to education, especially at the high school level, by school districts in South Carolina.

In addition to Flex time, schools, including area schools, are offering special counseling in career planning. This can include specialized internships with local employers.

In some cases, students will get help deciding what courses to take when they go on to a four-year college. In other cases, students can be matched to two-year tech programs or advanced training with companies after they graduate.

The point, it seems, is that students need more specialized options in a less rigid learning environment. The traditional, fixed school day with no variation and with all clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities held only after regular school hours should be a thing of the past.

We salute area district officials and board members for taking this innovative approach. Ultimately, we think, they will be producing students who are better equipped to deal with whatever challenges they face after collecting their high school diplomas.

Online: http://www.heraldonline.com/

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April 11

The Post and Courier of Charleston on how casinos would affect roads:

A proposal to legalize casino gambling in South Carolina is being touted as an alternative to a gas tax increase designed to have motorists pay more for road improvements.

Since the gas tax bill appears to be in trouble in the Senate, legislators should look to another option that could fill the revenue need.

Or so the argument goes.

But the gas tax isn't dead yet. It overwhelmingly passed the House, and its advocates in the Senate are working to make it palatable to their timid colleagues who are fearful of the political consequence of raising the gas tax, or any tax.

And even if the gas tax increase fails, that doesn't mean that the Legislature should substitute a bad idea for a good one. And legalized casino gambling is a bad idea.

Some critics of the casino plan say it offers no certainty as a funding source. In some areas, casinos haven't been the roaring success that their proponents predicted.

If there's any certainty about casino gambling, it is that house odds always favor the casino, not the gambler.

Other critics cite their moral objections to legalizing casino gambling. Certainly the negative consequences of big-time gambling have been documented in places like Atlantic City.

But the consequences also were evident in the video poker operations that once operated legally in South Carolina. The biggest problem created by those mini casinos was the gambling addiction that caused people to throw away money needed to sustain their own families.

The ill effects were enough to convince legislators to get rid of video poker.

There's no good reason to take it up again in a more garish, glorified form because South Carolina's roads need fixing, or its pension fund needs bolstering, or public schools need more money.

It might promise easy money, but primarily what it provides in public revenue is a sop to the state for the privilege of soaking those who throw away their money at the aptly named one-armed bandits and other games of chance.

The casino bill sponsor, Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford contends that casinos are "simply the best way" to raise new road money.

Senate Judiciary Committee Luke Rankin, a Republican, has a different take, maybe because he's from Myrtle Beach, the most frequently mentioned site for casino gambling.

"It's hard to justify it because we don't have the fortitude in the General Assembly to face up to the fact that you have to pay to build your roads in the way every other state in the country has done it — by taxing those who use those roads," Sen. Rankin said.

The Legislature should stick with a gas tax hike, not roll the dice for a casino bailout.

Online: http://www.postandcourier.com/

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