It’s that time of year, election week. In just 7 days I hope every single one of you goes to the polls, no matter where you live, and votes. Whether it’s a Senate, House, Statehouse, Governor, City / County Council, School Board race or an important ballot measure – every election matters.
The SC election is no different. Below are the top 3 issues that I’m paying attention to this year.
1. Governor’s Race
Gov. Nikki Haley and State Senator Vincent Sheheen face off again this time around for the Governor’s seat. If there’s only thing Haley and Sheheen have in common, it’s that they both have run for this office twice. That’s about it. The two candidates are starkly different on a myriad of issues – ethics, education, infrastructure, medical coverage, and family issues. But since I try and focus on the arts in this blog, that’s what I’ll do here.
Gov. Nikki Haley’s track record on the arts has been well documented, including on my own blog (here, here and here). For her first three years, she dealt blows to the SC Arts Commission through pure elimination, severe cuts, and movement of services into a different agency. Every year the state legislature did not follow her budget recommendations and kept the arts in the budget, only to have Haley veto that very funding every year. And every year, a bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate overrode her vetoes to keep the arts alive in SC. In 2014, Haley kept the SC Arts Commission funding intact, and it remained that way through the budget process. It was move that struck many arts advocates as a welcome surprise. However just five months after submitting her budget request, she restated her position that she does not think the arts should be supported by state dollars, and said so at an arts event supported by those very dollars.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a trial lawyer from Camden, has co-chaired the Senate’s Arts Caucus for many years, has appeared at many state Arts Advocacy Day events, has vocally supported the arts and arts education, and has voted to override Haley’s arts vetoes every year. There’s not much more to say about Sheheen’s record on the arts as it’s pretty easy to tell that he is a fan.
Sheheen has not been at the top of any polls this election season. Going in to the last race in 2010 Sheheen was down about 10% but the race ended up being close with a victory margin for Haley of just 4.5%. This year Gov. Haley has gained a bit more traction (before her last run she was a relatively unknown state legislator), but polls have Sheheen anywhere from a distant 20 points down to merely 6. It’s important to note that at the time of this post, no polls had been published that had been conducted after the last debate. More importantly, earlier today Independent candidate Tom Ervin, who had been polling in the 4-11% range, withdrew from the race and backed Vincent Sheheen.
The reality is that for Sheheen to win, a larger turnout is needed during these mid-term elections – something Americans are not necessarily known for participating in (not as bad as City Council elections though…don’t get me started on that one). Ervin votes also have to all fall Sheheen’s way and Republican turnout has to be lower than normal.
I encourage you to look into all of the candidates, and also to look at other races. The best thing you can do is inform yourself.
2. Charitable Raffles
I’ll refer you to my previous post about this issue from 2013 when it came before the State Legislature. But the main points are these. Currently, raffles (Churches, nonprofits, scout groups, schools, 50/50 raffles, drawings, etc) are all illegal in SC. In South Carolina, no one other that the state can hold a “lottery”. Based on the state’s definition of “lottery”, raffles fulfill all of the requirements to be called a “lottery”. And since the state is the only entity that can conduct a “lottery”, that means no other group, nonprofit or other, can hold a raffle. Now enforcement of this pertaining to raffles has not been a huge factor, however there are a few examples of organizations having to cease their raffle fundraisers, and even more instances of organizations forgoing the easy fundraising activity of raffles in fear of prosecution.
In 2013 the Legislature passed a bill allowing charitable raffles to be made legal. To do so though requires an amendment to the state’s constitution, and therefore a referendum vote by the people.
So when you hit the polls next week, be sure to check “YES” on ballot measure #1 (it’ll be on everyone’s ballot in the state) to allow charitable raffles to become legal finally.
3. Greenville County Road Tax
This is a heated issue in my home county. While I could write a book about it, I’ll try and keep this short and sweet.
Roads in SC are a mess. Our state DOT owns 40,000 miles of roadway (the 4th largest amount of state-owned roads in the country, less than California even), and quite simply we can’t afford to maintain or repair them in a timely manner. Our gas tax is one of the lowest in the country at $0.16/gallon and hasn’t been raised for decades. Even despite the low tax, Greenville County’s share of road improvements has actually been equal to $0.27/gallon last year – and we still can’t keep up with the problems.
Here’s a great breakdown. If you drive 15,000mi in a year and get 20mpg, you will have paid enough gas tax money to pave just 7ft of roadway for that year. It may be 2097 befor some roads to get repaved in this state.
Waiting on the State Legislature to take action has become a hopeless wish as year after year Legislators ignore real needs in favor of cutting costs and not creating sustainable funding sources. So this year Greenville County Council decided to give the people a choice. A citizen commission was established and they toured the County gathering input on needs from citizens, local governments, schools and businesses. They then compiled a list of improvements, totaling over $600 million, that could be funded by an increase in sales tax over 8 years.
On the ballot in Greenville County is a proposed 1% sales tax increase dedicated to road improvements. The funding is 100% restricted to the list of roads provided by the citizen commission’s roads list and is only for 8 years. Being a sales tax, studies estimate that 30% of the revenue will actually come from visitors and travelers passing through the County and not by residents. In fact the estimated cost per person in the County totals $119/yr – a lot cheaper than a $300 repair to the car.
Raising taxes is a hot issue, especially in Greenville. In fact the national right-winged organization Americans for Prosperity is even running ads against the measure and rallies have occurred outside numerous County Council meetings.
Personally, I’m in support of this tax increase. Working in local government, I guess I have a little bit better knowledge of how road funding works in the state and the real stresses on local governments, but it’s pretty easy to tell that our roads are a problem and will only get worse the longer we wait. Honestly, waiting on the State to do something is pointless – they won’t be able to fix our roads in a timely manner and any solution the propose will benefit the entire state and not just our County. Meaning we can’t be sure we would get our fair share of any state solution.
But most importantly, I haven’t heard one actual alternative solution. I’ve heard plenty of “there’s plenty of money”, or “we should cut our expenses”, or “no new taxes” – but I haven’t heard a single tangible option to fixing our state’s roads. And more importantly I haven’t heard a real alternative that fixes Greenville County’s roads, can be done in 8-15 years (I’ll give those of you who think the state can solve this an extra seven years past Greenville’s solution), and addresses ALL of our most pressing needs.
Get out and VOTE people!
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