Editorial roundup: Aug. 14, 2018


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Times and Democrat

Aug. 5

Dominion merger is best solution for future of SCANA, customers

The shareholders of SCANA Corp. got it right. They voted to approve the proposed merger with Virginia-based Dominion Energy but rejected any merger-related bonuses for SCANA executives.

As much as the merger plan is the best solution to ensure the future of a utility that is vital to South Carolina, the bonuses for corporate executives are an insult to ratepayers, particularly when state and federal authorities are investigating possible wrongdoing by top company executives, some of whom have departed SCANA in the past year.

Most paying utility bills to SCANA can relate to the need for the company to find stability via the merger, even though the plan as laid out by Dominion would include customers continuing to pay a percentage of bills to cover debt from the failed SCANA-Santee Cooper nuclear project in Fairfield County.

What they cannot relate to is how those running SCANA could find themselves in line for up to $110 million in compensation if they lose their jobs in the merger, which despite SCANA shareholder approval faces a major hurdle with the S.C. Public Service Commission later this year.

News of the proposed payouts to executives surfaced this past week during court proceedings related to SCANA challenging a legislative mandate that it cut electricity rates to eliminate most of the charge for the nuclear project. SCANA put aside $110 million into an irrevocable trust to pay key executives and facilitate the company's merger plans.

The executive compensation plan immediately drew the ire of politicians and others.

Unfortunately, the vote of SCANA shareholders, which is nonbinding, and the words of politicians are not likely to change the payouts if the merger goes through.

And the payouts to executives are a different issue from the current battle between SCANA and the state over rates. The utility is asking that the federal courts put the brakes on a 15 percent rate cut mandated by the General Assembly and approved by the PSC. The cut would begin appearing on South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. bills this week. SCE&G is a SCANA subsidiary.

SCANA contends the amount being charged for the failed nuclear project was authorized by the Legislature in 2007 and cannot be retroactively undone because the project failed.

On Thursday, a federal judge decided SCANA could go forward with its challenge to the legislative action.

If the rate cuts are not halted, SCANA will be forced to make payouts that some say could seriously damage the company's health - to the point of bankruptcy. Whether or not that would happen, should the legislature's action on rate cuts ultimately be overturned as unconstitutional, the state's taxpayers could find themselves reimbursing the utility for the refunds.

Dominion is offering more than $1 billion in rebates to SCE&G customers, rate cuts of about 7 percent and a promise not to raise rates for three years. Dominion would also write off about $1.7 billion in remaining nuclear project costs in the plan, which ends ratepayers' payments toward the project in about 20 years instead of SCANA's plan for 50 to 60 years.

As distasteful as the SCANA plan for executive compensation is, the Dominion merger remains the best solution for the future of SCANA and for ratepayers, who are never going to be made whole for the nuclear project failure no matter what politicians say.

The Post and Courier

Aug. 5

State police unit fell short of goal to find hardcore criminals

When the Obama administration unwisely loosened immigration policies and put less emphasis on minor crimes, anxious states across the country rushed to enact their own stricter laws. In South Carolina, the response included an elite police unit that would pursue human traffickers and drug smugglers hiding among the state's illegal immigrant population.

In theory, it sounded like a great idea to focus on protecting South Carolinians from some of the worst criminals out there. In reality, it hasn't worked out that way.

The small, shadowy police force has fallen disappointingly short of its goal of rooting out hardcore criminals. Instead, it has set its sights much lower, rounding up landscapers and maids with fake documents.

The state has spent almost $5 million since 2012 on its Immigration Enforcement Unit. It's a superfluous expense considering that much of the unit's work duplicates the mission of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the same federal agency some imprudent Democrats want to abolish.

Taxpayers haven't gotten a lot of return on that investment. About 100 of the 123 cases reviewed by Post and Courier reporters Andrew Brown and Greg Yee involved working-class Hispanics who used some sort of fraudulent documentation to get a job. Only nine cases mentioned gangs, drugs or human trafficking.

Reggie Lloyd, a former judge, U.S. attorney and chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, correctly called the program a waste of time that wrongly inserts the state into a federal issue.

To be sure, there is value in catching illegal immigrants using false documents, whether they use them to do nothing more than get a job or are up to something more nefarious. Anyone who's been the victim of identity theft or had their bank account drained or their credit ruined can vouch for the misery that can cause. The use of false documentation is illegal for a good reason. It's especially pernicious when the perpetrators are here illegally, making them perhaps even harder to track down.

We can't afford to look the other way, and neither should the government.

But that's not how the Immigration Enforcement Unit was sold. Former Gov. Nikki Haley claimed the group was created to go after "trafficking, gang violence and drug smuggling" and praised its efforts that were "getting some of that activity out of South Carolina."

Finding and prosecuting violent criminals living among the diffuse illegal immigrant community is an important public safety function. But it's a job for ICE. And with the Trump administration's intense focus on illegal immigrants and any criminals among them - and Gov. Henry McMaster's close ties to the president - we should be able to hand off this task to the feds.