Gas tax gridlock ahead

Posted 2/23/17

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

Feb. 22

Gas tax gridlock ahead

South Carolina needs money for road repairs, and raising the state tax on gasoline is the obvious and fairest way to get it. But …

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Gas tax gridlock ahead


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

Feb. 22

South Carolina needs money for road repairs, and raising the state tax on gasoline is the obvious and fairest way to get it. But without leadership from Gov. Henry McMaster, it looks as if lawmakers are on the road to gridlock once again.

On Tuesday, members of the state's business community urged passage of the House plan to raise the gas tax by two cents a gallon each year for the next five years. Speaking as the S.C. Road Coalition, they cited eroding infrastructure's ill effects to economic development as well as safety.

"If we do not come up with a solid plan this year that is sufficient and sustainable over the long term, we believe that going forward it's going to do significant damage to the state," said Michelin North America President Pete Selleck. "Not just in terms of reduced safety on the road - which is already a challenge - but, more importantly, that economic development will begin to ease up. And that's critical for job creation as we look forward to the coming decades."

But Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, has said he'll do his best to block any gas tax increase unless the Department of Transportation is restructured, so its commissioners are not beholden to legislators and their special projects. He wants the DOT made more accountable to the governor.

South Carolina's gas tax, which has not been raised since 1987, is the second lowest in the nation at 16.75 cents per gallon. Only oil-rich Alaskans pay less.

But finding consensus on even a moderate increase - 2 cents per year for five years - seems out of reach for many lawmakers, who apparently see support for any tax hike as political suicide.

Actually, it's the best solution from a practical standpoint. It would provide a stable source of revenue from those who use the roads. And that number includes many out-of-state drivers. The DOT estimates that one-third of gas tax revenue is paid by those motorists.

Regardless, the time to lead, follow or get out of the way has arrived. With the hurdles of last year fading - Gov. Nikki Haley then vowed to veto any gas tax hike without a cut in income tax rates - Mr. McMaster needs to emerge with a clear plan going forward.

And clearly, the state needs more resources to embark on a multi-year, multibillion-dollar road improvement project.

But an agreement on raising the gas tax has to come first. And a 2-cent-per-gallon-per-year bump isn't asking a lot. It would bring in an extra $600 million a year.

With leadership from the top, lawmakers can lay the cornerstone of a road-funding formula by agreeing on a moderate gas tax increase.



The Herald

Feb. 21

On free tuition proposal

Funding for public education at all levels too often is viewed as a painful expense when it should be seen for what it really is, the best investment the state can make in its future.

That is the thinking behind a proposal by 17 Democratic state senators to spend $76 million a year to offer free tuition, free vouchers and other financial help to high school graduates to attend the state's 16 technical colleges. Under the proposal, the financial help would kick in after students have exhausted other sources of financial aid and scholarships, including merit-based lottery scholarships.

The program also would provide aid for books, transportation and other expenses for students from poor families.

Perhaps this proposal would receive a more enthusiastic response if it were viewed as an investment that is likely to pay dividends for decades to come. Ensuring an educated workforce not only helps residents compete for jobs but also helps attract new business and industry to the state.

Courson is right about the state's technical college system. It is a gateway for thousands of students entering the job market.

A high school diploma is rarely enough to get a foot in the door for any but the most menial job opportunities. Nearly all workers will need some post-high school training.

That doesn't mean everyone has to attend a four-year college. Technical colleges fill a crucial niche for those who are looking for jobs that don't require a bachelors degree.

Technical colleges are an affordable alternative, but even lower tuition costs can be a significant hurdle for many students. Help from the state would give those students a leg up and a chance to become more productive citizens.

The estimated cost to the state is small. Most technical college students commute the campus, so the state would not have to contend with expenses such as dorm costs or food programs.

But despite the small cost, the payoff in a well-trained workforce could be huge. We know this proposal has little chance of passing this year, but we hope supporters can at least advance the idea that helping train young workers is one of the best ways to ensure the state is equipped to meet the challenges of a fast-changing economy.



The Herald-Journal

Feb. 19

Educators should handle school discipline

When a child misbehaves in a classroom, the situation should be handled by educators, not by the police.

That's the idea behind a bill under consideration by South Carolina lawmakers. The bill would narrow the state law against disturbing school.

The law was intended to protect students at schools from outsiders who threatened their safety or who disrupted the education environment. The law wasn't intended to apply to students within the school itself.

But it has been applied to them. And the effect has been to criminalize the misbehavior of children.

South Carolinians remember the video from 2015 of a deputy sheriff tossing a female Spring Valley High School student across a room. He was trying to arrest her for disturbing school because she wouldn't hand over her cellphone to a teacher. That kind of issue should never be handled by law enforcement. It should be handled by educators.

There is a big difference between the training law enforcement officers receive and the training necessary to become a teacher or school administrator. Educators are taught to deal with children, handling misbehavior, controlling a classroom. Police are taught to deal with adult criminals, threats to public safety, people who might harm them as well as others.

The Spring Valley video is a good example of how a law enforcement response is not appropriate in a school setting. The amount of forced used on the girl was inexcusable. That's what happens when you treat a misbehaving student like a criminal.

Refusing to hand over a cellphone is not tantamount to a crime. It's an act of sullen teenage rebellion. But when we classify it as a crime under the disturbing schools law, we end up with a much greater offense - the mistreatment of a child as a criminal.

Does that mean that schools shouldn't have school resource officers? Of course not. But they should be utilized to protect and patrol schools, to respond to occasional crimes on school property, not to maintain student discipline. That's the job of educators, not the police.

Our law enforcement officers have a job that's already difficult, and that's the job for which they are trained. They shouldn't be expected to take on a new job - classroom discipline - for which they are not trained.

The legislative proposal would exclude a school's students from those who can be prosecuted for disturbing school. It would restore the proper scope of the law. It would protect students and teachers from outside threats and disruptions, but it wouldn't criminalize student disciplinary matters.

The bill has met opposition in the Senate from those who want the law to apply to students who refuse to behave after multiple warnings. To do so would be to continue to criminalize childish misbehavior.

Schools must be able to handle such problems without escalating them into the criminal justice system. Senators should pass a version of the bill that exempts students from this law.