Our first endorsement ran today

A couple of weeks ago, I came up with the idea of doing something different with endorsements this cycle. Back during the campaigns for the June primaries, I became frustrated that we had so many candidates, and so little time and space, that we didn’t serve readers as well as we should have. After hours and hours and hours of interviews, research and discussion, in some cases our explanations of endorsements were absurdly abbreviated, in extreme cases amounting to less than a sentence. And as I’ve always said, to me the endorsement is ABOUT the explanation, so I was very dissatisfied. All of that work, and so little of it shared with readers.

So I said to my colleagues at the time, we either needed to do better in the future, or quit endorsing altogether. Our staff is too small to spend that much time on something that produces such thin gruel for readers.

Of course, being obsessive, we resolved to keep doing it, but do it better. Fortunately for that purpose, we had far fewer contested races to deal with in the fall. This fact is UNfortunate for democracy — the fact that primary contests are far more numerous than general election ones is a testament to the power of incumbency and partisanship in redistricting. But at least it offered us a chance to be somewhat more thorough in our presentation, to make it more reflective of our preparation.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought of a way to do even better: Do our endorsements earlier. In the past, we’ve held them as long as we can, given the number we have to do — the theory being that that’s when voters are paying the most attention. Also, it meant we had as much information as possible, preventing post-endorsement "surprises" about the candidates.

But I proposed to Warren and Cindi that we start doing them as soon as we can. It keeps them from being jammed up, thereby allowing us more space. It also frees us up as commentators. Increasingly, I have found it hard to write the summaries of interviews without going ahead and saying "this is the guy for us" or "no way on this one." You’ll note that I haven’t written anything from the interviews with the candidates in today’s endorsement of Anton Gunn, because the choice was so clear, and I hate to scoop my colleagues. Now, I’m free to go back and write those blog entries from the interviews — which I will, perhaps today — as well as to write columns. I suspect that Cindi and Warren will find additional things they want to say about their candidates once the ice is broken with an endorsement. Maybe not, but we’ll see.

In any event, I’ve been pleased with the first two endorsements (one running today, the other tomorrow), even if that’s all that is written. They flow better, they’re less cramped and hurried in their style. They’re more thoughtful. And that’s supposed to be the point — provoking thought.

Anyway, here’s the endorsement of Anton Gunn. More commentary on that contest will be forthcoming.

19 thoughts on “Our first endorsement ran today

  1. Doug Ross

    Shouldn’t a statement such as this in the Anton Gunn endorsement require the slightest bit of explanation:
    “reverse the 2006 property/sales tax swap that is strangling fast-growing districts such as Richland 2”
    Says who? By what measurement do you assume that Richland 2 (my district) is being “strangled” by the sales tax swap?
    Please define “strangled”.
    Because from my view, we were getting strangled before the tax swap and will get strangled again if the bond referendum passes. Nobody from The State’s editorial board has ever attempted to make a valid case as to why the amount of money a person should pay for schools should be based on how much the county thinks a home is worth. Why exactly should I pay twice as much for schools as someone who owns a house that is worth half as much?
    There should be no tax paid on any property after the initial purchase unless it is a tax that is apportioned equally on each homeowner. I already pay more for libraries, schools, police, recreation than many people do. Just because I happen to live in a larger house. Under what bizarre logic does that make sense?
    The fact that Anton Gunn wants to reverse the tax swap is reason enough to vote for his opponent.

  2. Brad Warthen

    So the fact that sales taxes are more than 9 cents on things, while property taxes in South Carolina are comparatively low, doesn’t bother you?
    Basically, we shifted the load from an underburdened segment of our economy to an overburdened one, and that isn’t sound policy from any kind of perspective.
    Your complaint about assessments is a separate issue. Work on assessments to make them fair. But we’re relying too much on sales taxes and too little on property, all of which needs to be part of comprehensive tax reform.
    You’re staring at the edge details again, Doug, and missing the overall inkblot.

  3. Susanna K.

    “I already pay more for libraries, schools, police, recreation than many people do. Just because I happen to live in a larger house.”
    To explain some of the logic behind this, in general, it is assumed that people who live in larger or more expensive houses have more money. By taxing the value of the house proportionally, they’re attempting to be fair.
    For example, one would assume that the person living in a $75K house has a lower income than one living in a $375K house.
    The only place this logic breaks down is when you have people who have been living in a house for a very long time, such as seniors on fixed incomes. Their house has grown in value during the time they’ve lived there, to the point where if they wanted to buy a comparable house today, they couldn’t afford it.
    Now, one could argue that since they’ve been living there so long and their mortgages are paid off, they can still afford proportional property taxes. But that’s not always the case, and it’s no surprise to me that seniors are often the most vocal voices in property tax disputes.

  4. Doug Ross

    I’m staring the problem right in the middle of the bullseye — an unsupportable, unfair property tax system. The problems with government can all be tied to monkeying with the tax code. Every loophole, tax break, exception, etc. just invites abuse and inequity.
    Comparatively low is bogus. Our taxes are too high for the value we receive.
    I will gladly pay the same amount as everyone else for the services that a community needs. How come my trash service appears to be a flat rate? Why can’t we do the same for schools? Until they can come up with a way to tax all homeowners the same amount, I’m perfectly fine with paying for them via sales taxes.
    That’s more fair than the previous system.
    We need tax simplicity to spur on economic growth. How is it that a state like New Hampshire can manage to thrive without a sales tax OR an income tax? Maybe because they understand that the best place to put money is in the citizen’s pockets.
    You need to stop looking at the big issues with a Vaseline covered lens. Sometimes the devil is in the details…

  5. Doug Ross

    You didn’t tell us how Richland 2 is being strangled. What is that characterization based on? I have two kids in Richland 2 schools and see no difference this year compared to last.

  6. Brad Warthen

    And we allow for that, Susanna. My Dad remarked to me the other day that he pays more in property tax on his car than on his house. But that’s less a reflection of his car tax being high than his property tax being low because of the exemptions he gets because of his age.

    Of course, he had a good comeback for that — he makes up for the low taxes on his residence with the extremely high taxes on the beach house my Mom inherited from my grandfather. Absolutely true, but I don’t think many of us think tax relief for second homes ought to be a high priority. I would vote for lowering taxes on rental property now, since renters are paying a higher tax rate (through their rent) than homeowners, thereby making it harder for them to save up and BECOME homeowners. Lawmakers in this state have kowtowed to homeowners to an absurd degree — or rather, to the minority of homeowners who were complaining (those in expensive, rapidly appreciating houses) — at the expense of every other category of property taxpayer.

    And Doug, having fuller, more explanatory endorsements means we’re able to explore more fully what we know about a candidate and why we choose him. One of the measures (although obviously not the only one) is the extent to which the candidate agrees with our positions. It’s the height of absurdity to expect us to defend those POSITIONS in the endorsement piece. We can’t jam editorials and columns worth of support and explanation into a 12-inch endorsement. And if I write more about this endorsement (which I will), I’m going to be writing more about Anton Gunn and David Herndon, not more about policy positions we’ve gone into at length elsewhere.

    If I had a staffer to devote to that and nothing else, I would have that person go in manually and do links to all those previous editorials and columns, the way I do on my blog. But I don’t. I don’t have the staff to do what we ARE doing, but we’re doing it anyway. (I think my continuing to do this blog gives people the incorrect impression that we have time on our hands, when the opposite is true. So I should probably quit blogging. But my page view count is growing, at the same time that our space in the actual newspaper is shrinking, so I feel like I can’t quit. A bit of a conundrum, that.)

    In the one minute I just spent trying to satisfy your curiosity on this point however, I did run across this recent column from Cindi that touches upon the subject. Most of our writing about it occurred two years ago when it happened, and thestate.com no longer has that up. I don’t have time to hunt those down and construct files for them right now, but if more people ask your question, I’ll try to make time later.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Doug and I just crossed paths. Sheesh, Doug, I don’t remember the details of that one district. I do remember having it explained to me, but I don’t remember the explanation. Cindi, who wrote the editorial, is pretty ticked off at me because I just made her stop what she was doing in order to help me quickly answer the question I THOUGHT you were asking (she came up with the same link, but I didn’t tell her I’d already found that).
    I do know that Richland 2 is funded by the county, and the caps the state has placed on local gummints have put them in a bind, and Richland 2 is growing like no other in the metro area (which the OTHER district contained within the county is not), but if you want me to get into the technical details of exactly how that works out in the budget of that district, you’re going to have to wait until Cindi has forgotten about me derailing her a moment ago. (That was about the 10th thing I had asked her to do today that isn’t strictly part of her stated duties, and she did all the others cheerfully. This latest was like that straw and the camel, based on the tone in her voice. You know, as a boss, I feel quite comfortable asking people to go above and beyond for the newspaper — ask them; they’ll tell you. But I’m just a tad uncomfortable asking them to go above and beyond THAT heroic level of performance for MY blog…)

  8. Doug Ross

    You used the word strangling in reference specifically to Richland 2. Cindi’s column makes no reference to Richland 2. Nor any reference to how exactly school districts are supposedly suffering as a result of a tax swap.
    If you’re going to use a weasel word like “strangling” than maybe you oughta think about what it means. I’ve not seen any information from Richland 2 that suggests the claim you made. My kids attend school there and my wife works for the district. There’s no strangling going on. It’s been business as usual.
    You don’t like the tax swap. I do. That’s fine. Just don’t make stuff up to try and support your position.

  9. Lee Muller

    A lot of people who bought houses in Shandon prior to 1975 paid more in property taxes by 1990 than they had paid for the house.
    A lot of them are retired, and the assumption that just because inflation has increased the dollar price of their house that they can afford to pay high taxes, is simply bogus.
    Sales tax is the most fair tax, because people pay according to what they spend, and no one escapes. Collection costs are low, too.
    Property taxes are a relic of the agricultural slave economy, and make no sense on personal homes, cars and boats.

  10. Brad Warthen

    Well, I snuck in a question to Cindi as she was leaving for the day and was in a good mood (something I wouldn’t have bothered do to if I’d seen Doug’s last message with the “weasel” crack), and she told me my wild guess was wrong, that the problem had nothing to do with the spending cap on the county.
    What it has to do with is the way the sales tax is distributed under the 2006 law, in a way that causes a lag in funding for the fastest-growing districts. In other words, it was way technical, and I’m sorry I asked.

  11. Doug Ross

    So then Richland 2 is not strangling now… but might in the future.. possibly… if we can decide what that means… someday?
    I checked the Richland Two website and could find no reference to funding issues. The 2007-200 annual report from the Superintendent includes this quote from Dr. Hefner:
    “I congratulate my staff and our ever-impressive students, parents and community on their vast successes this year. Together we are maintaining the momentum on every measurable level.”
    Another quote from the report:
    “Richland School District Two is maintaining its strong credit rating despite an economy that fiscal advisors say is on the verge of recession”
    So is that what the definition of “strangling” is? If so, somebody start choking me.
    The only real problem that the district faces is due to overzealous developers and a deficient planning board who allowed growth to exceed the capacity of the infrastructure over the past decade.
    I’ll believe Richland 2 is in trouble when they stop putting $10,000 Smart Boards in every classroom…

  12. Anton Gunn

    Let me first say I don’t want to reverse the 2006 Tax Swap, I want to fix the clearly flawed nature of what this tax swap has done in our our business community and real estate industry-which provides a lot of jobs in South Carolina.
    There are many people on all sides of the Property Tax swap debate who now say it was an idea that was flawed in it’s concept (they were afraid to say it in 2006, but now they’ve come around to speaking about it). It not only swaped revenue streams for school operating costs, but created a net lost in the revenue stream for school operating costs. The problem with the tax swap is not something that shows up on Richland 2 District’s website or in any quote that you will read. It is a problem that continues to grow as the school district continues to grow. Each school year they have less and less revenue to meet the needs of the district because of the technical way the tax swap works. It punishes growing school districts. So if you really want to understand what the problem is going to look like for District 2 or Kershaw County Schools go sit down with Richland 2’s CFO and the other number crunchers over there. They will explain it to you in a way that expresses what will happen to the district if this problem is not fixed ASAP.
    Secondly, if you also want to understand why this Tax Swap (as it was written and passed) is a bad thing, talk to anyone in the real estate industry statewide. The Point of Sale Reassessment is killing the industry. It has contributed to the housing/real estate slow down in South Carolina.
    This Tax Swap is also affecting South Carolina business owners. Their taxes didn’t decrease at all under this Tax Swap.
    It is unfair. It needs to be fixed now. Our legislature didn’t have the courage to do it this past legislative session even though all parties begged for it to be fixed. Lamakers promised to fix it but then they played it safe because it’s an election year.
    We can’t keep tinkering around the edges and think our tax system is going to be fair and balanced for anyone in South Carolina. We need to overhaul the entire tax system and make sure its modern to support the needs and desires of the citizens of South Carolina in the 21st Century.
    That is what I want to do. Anyone that tries to say or thinks that I just want to “reverse the Tax Swap” is missing the biggest and most important point about what we as a state need to do to put South Carolina in the best position to improve over the long term.
    Modernize, Modernize, Modernize.

  13. Doug Ross

    Thanks for your response Mr. Gunn.
    I don’t agree with your assessment of the impact of the tax swap’s impact, however.
    Growth in Richland Two was already slowing down prior to the tax swap due to the general housing bubble burting and economic slowdown – and I am thrilled that it was slowing. We don’t need any more growth in Richland Two. We need to spend several years addressing the impact of the uncontrolled growth on schools, roads, water supply, crime, and other infrastructure items. Personally, I wouldn’t care if another house got built in the district for five years. I’ve lived in Northeast Columbia for nearly 20 years and the last ten have seen a negative impact on the quality of life in this area.
    If you can come up with a plan that apportions taxes fairly and not just based on the supposed value of a home, more power to you. But if you think that a system of taxation based on how many bedrooms you have is fair, sorry, I won’t vote for you. The reward for success in life should not be paying a higher tax rate.

  14. Doug Ross

    And just to add some information on why I want to see no growth, here’s some facts and observations:
    – At the end of my street is an area of several hundred acres that was once a forest. Now it’s a stripped bare dust bowl that won’t be developed for some time now.
    – I saw my home appreciate less than 10% in ten years in Northeast Columbia due to all the overbuilding that occurred there in the late 90’s and beyond. Ask Spring Valley residents whether they’ve seen any real appreciation in their home values in the past five years. Our leaders need to think about the current residents of the community and not the real estate agents (who get their 6% on the sale price whether the home owner is making a profit or not)
    – Ask our school administration why they build schools that are already over capacity in the second year? Is that good planning? Or is it a case of doing the bidding of developers in order to keep building out the district?
    – Ask the school administrators where they plan to find the teachers to fill all the new schools on the ten year plan. They are already being forced to go outside the country to places like the Phillilpines and Eastern Europe to find math and science teachers. The language issues alone in those cases have been BIG problems for parents of high school students in the district. Buildings don’t teach. There is a finite supply of excellent teachers so the more we grow, the more likely the quality of the teachers we can recruit will suffer.

  15. Lee Muller

    The solution to ever-rising property taxes and urban sprawl is simple: stop subsidizing sprawl, by not having taxpayers subsidize development costs.
    Make the builders pay up front for the new roads, schools, fire departments, police stations, playgrounds, parks and whatever else the socialist planners think the government should provide. Then the home prices will include the cost of all this “infrasture”, and the homebuyers who supposedly benefit, can pay for it in their mortgages.
    Or the homebuyers might decide they want less lavish government “services”.

  16. Anton Gunn

    I do believe that we can come up with a plan that apportions taxes fairly. It will require a lot of thought, analysis and understanding of the revenue systems of our state. I am committed to helping that plan come together if it’s the will of the people.

  17. Lee Muller

    The best way to make taxes fair to all is get rid of most of them, get rid of the junk government which wastes our tax money, and make everyone pay the same rate of what taxes we do have.

  18. Lee Muller

    Mr. Gunn,
    You are supposed to have some specific ideas for fixing the tax problems now, BEFORE you run for office. Let’s hear them.

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