SRO crowd turns out for council forum

The candidates were hard to see, but the sound quality was good.

A city council candidate forum at 701 Whaley drew a standing-room-only crowd.

The event, sponsored by Rosewood Community CouncilSustainable Midlands and the Rosewood Merchants Association, featured all of the candidates for both the at-large seat being vacated by Daniel Rickenmann and the District 3 seat currently held by Belinda Gergel.

That format, with seven candidates not all running for the same job, was a bit unwieldy. And the staging — with the candidates sitting in shadow with bright pools of superfluous light to either side of them — was ideal for making photographers want to pull their hair out. But dim as it was, it was the first look I’d had at both of these lineups, and I found it useful, as I expect the audience did.

You can read an account of the forum — “debate” would be misleading — at

Here are a few additional comments of my own:

As Carolyn indicated in her story, the sharpest disagreement — really, the only disagreement — was over Richland County sales tax increase that is the only plan this community has come up with for paying for bus service for the Midlands. Which tells you where I stand, as if you didn’t know already. Since a city without public transit might as well go out of business.

The candidates with the best answers on that were Cameron Runyan (running for the at-large seat) and Daniel Coble (running in District 3). Both offered passionate, even vehement, support for the sales tax increase as essential to the community going forward. Beyond those two there was a second group (Jenny Isgett, Mike Miller — both District 3 candidates) who were sorta kinda for it, but with caveats. Then there were Joe Azar and Robert Bolchoz (both running at-large), who expressed the strongest skepticism for the plan. (For some reason, I don’t have what Moe Baddourah — the other District 3 candidate — said on the issue in my notes. Blame me for that, not him.)

Beyond that, I have scattered impressions. There was general agreement, and not only from small businessmen Baddourah and Azar, that the city makes it too hard to do business. When the candidates were asked about Famously Hot (yay, ADCO!), Mike Miller said his favorite part of the campaign was the “surprisingly cool” — which he said was accurate (as former music writer at The State, Mike was the only one on the panel who has actually been a professional arbiter of what is cool). Jenny Isgett diagnosed the city as suffering from ADD, with the symptoms being the inability to pick priorities and see them through.

I look forward to learning more about what differences exist between these candidates and sharing what I find with y’all. I also need to see what’s happening, if anything, in the 2nd District, where Nammu Muhammad is challenging Brian DeQuincey Newman.

But this was a start — actually, a belated one. The election is just under a month away — April 3.

84 thoughts on “SRO crowd turns out for council forum

  1. Silence

    I propose an increase in the wheel tax to pay for bus service, say a $100.00 per vehicle fee increasing to $500.00 over the next decade. This would have the twin effects of FULLY funding bus service while encouraging junk cars to get off the road, or rather, promoting good civic behavior by encouraging poorer people to make better economic decisions i.e. use the bus.

    You need to offer a reasonable and stable product though, so people can make residency choices, work commute decisions and generally plan their lives around the transit system.

  2. Silence

    Well, I offered to serve on the CMRTA board, but the city wasn’t interested. It’s not like I don’t have a master’s degree in transportation….

    If we are going to have public transit, (or any other program, for that matter) let’s stop F’ing around, and do it right.

    Also, I can deduct vehicle tax from my federal taxes. I can’t deduct the (regressive) penny sales tax.

  3. Steven Davis II

    Silence – That sounds just like the ticket for a full blown riot. Or at least cause people to move across the river, which will do wonders to property values in Richland County.

    Will the buses in your little world run 24/7/365? Will users have to wait for buses who only make stops nearest your home every hour or two? Better start plans to quadruple (at least) the number of buses in the system. Maybe they can bring back Bob Coble’s “little Charleston” trolley system.

  4. Silence

    @ Steven, I did a little math on this a while back. I figured that the penny sales tax would generate $1.8B over 25 years, based on 2002 retail sales of 3.8B and allowing for a modest 3% annual growth.

    If we started with a 50 dollar car fee and raised it to 500 by year 6, and allowing for a decrease in the number of cars in the county from 256k in 2011 to about 161k by year 10, it would be revenue neutral to the sales tax.

    I wouldn’t let a single bus cross into Lexington Co. unless they played along. Ditto for any other funding of joint or regional efforts.

    And yes, for 80M/year (which you’d be raising) the buses could run 24/7/365. Yes, you’d need to have about 10x the busses you currently have. Yes, some folks would bitch and complain. No, moving across the river wouldn’t help them.
    Would it hurt some folks? Yes. Car dealers, mechanics, gas station owners, etc would feel some pain. Maybe a lot of pain?

    Would it help a lot of folks? Yes it would. Is it a better idea than a penny sales tax? Yes it is, it accomplishes more than simply “patching the bus system funding problem”.
    You’d have less congestion, cleaner air, transportation for people who need it, a groundwork for economic growth, and new opportunities for lower income individuals.

    Personally, I could give a rat’s hind end about the sytem. I don’t use it, likely won’t ever. CMRTA currently sucks. If we are going to have a system, let’s not half-ass it anymore.

  5. Steven Davis II

    Silence, from what I’ve witnessed how this city operates, if you have a Masters in Transportation, they likely viewed you as a better candidate for a position on the board that oversees flower beds and park maintenance.

    Public transportation will always be a failed project in this city. Public transportation only works in heavily urban areas where parking is a concern and large numbers of people live in apartment buildings or condos. Which is why you see heavier ridership in the projects than in the suburbs.

    Tax deductions are lucky to be 20 cents on the dollar. So excuse me if I don’t jump for joy at your wanting to put an extra $7 in my pocket at the end of the year.

  6. Doug Ross

    So basically, Silence, you are advocating a system where the people who pay for the bus system are the people who don’t use it. And the more people who use the bus system, the higher the cost for those who don’t use it.

    We wouldn’t want the people who actually use the bus system to pay the majority of the cost, right?

    And how do the cars go away? Columbia isn’t New York City. Are you suggesting that all of people’s transportation requirements would be met by a bus system?

  7. Steven Davis II

    Silence, Richland County can’t get a penny sales tax increase passed and you’re talking about increasing a vehicle tax from $0.00 to $500.00. What political candidate do you have in mind to run on this platform?

    Would you promise that they wouldn’t cross over the river? I’d appreciate that because I’ve been stuck behind the bus heading west at 5:00 on Hwy 1.

  8. Bryan Caskey

    A bus system (or any public transportation system for that matter) only works when you have a densely populated area. Trying to force a big-city bus system onto Columbia is like putting a square peg in a round hole.

    Every bus that I see is always at about 5%-10% capacity.

    The bus system continually loses money because there aren’t enough riders to even have it break even. That’s the simple fact. The question is how much is it worth to have a bus system? The answer is: not much. The bus system does not provide much utility here in Columbia.

    It’s not worth throwing gobs of money at it just because you like the “idea” of having a bus-system.

  9. Bryan Caskey

    Buses travel slower than cars, wasting your time. Never in the history of man has someone in a hurry chosen to take the bus over a car.

    Buses don’t get you exactly to where you want to go, whereas cars do.

    Buses operate on their own schedule, not yours.

    Buses are simply an inferior method of transportation unless you have large amounts of people going to the same place at the same time.

    Where in Columbia do we have that?

  10. Bryan Caskey

    You have to pay taxes to build roads and defend our oil supplies whether you drive or not, and fire trucks, ambulances, and delivery vehicles need streets to drive on. Pretending that you somehow avoid those “hidden costs” by taking the bus is beneath stupid.

    Telling me that 45 minutes in a crowded, lurching bus is better or a more effective use of my time than 20 minutes in my car is a couple of levels below that.

    Ok, I’m done with the bus issue. You can have the soap-box back.

  11. Silence

    Public transportation can work here, but it’s never going to break even. You have to squint a little bit, cock your head to the side, pinch your nose, and think of it as an investment in economic growth (or sustainment).
    Whether or not people ride it, well that’s all about how you value your time and what your alternatives are. My time is pretty valuable – more valuable than my money at this point. I wouldn’t ride it. It also wouldn’t go where I need to go every day. Many people who make a lower wage would, as would people who have reasons not to drive (impairments, DUI’s etc.) and some people might just prefer it.

    I’ll repeat what I said in a previous thread/post: If you are one of the people in Columbia or Richland County making less than the average (25k/person or 47k/household) you probably shouldn’t own your own automobile. Except that right now, you probably need to.

    As a final note, I’ll get down to another opinion and hope it gets some comments going, I know this won’t jive with my transit funding tax plan, by the way:

    Taxes that are earmarked for a specific purpose are a gimmick and a cop-out. It’s very easy to sell a penny here or a lottery ticket there for a specific purpose, but it directly conflicts with a representative government. We elect a legislature or a council to decide how to spend public dollars and to prioritize programs and expenses. By earmarking taxes for specific items we take away flexibility (and accountability) from our elected officials. A tax is a tax. Public officials should have the guts to raise taxes when they need to, and not to hide behind a popular program (transit, lottery, hospitality) or increase hidden taxes (franchise fee, water/sewer rates, universal connectivity fee, gross receipt tax, excise taxes, etc.) Let ’em all be out in the open.

    Also, let every taxpayer write a quarterly check – no more withholding.

  12. Brad

    Folks, public transportation is a form of infrastructure for the community. It isn’t a business proposition, and therefore does not “break even.” Whether we’re talking roads or buses, it’s the same. These things pay for themselves through the economic activity that they make possible.

    And Bryan, there’s no such thing as “amounts” of people. They come in “numbers.”

    Sorry. After all those decades as an editor, I have to say things like that from time to time.

  13. Doug Ross

    “Folks, public transportation is a form of infrastructure for the community.”

    Only if there is a community to be served by it. There aren’t enough riders in Columbia and there aren’t enough locations to compel people to ride to.

    A bus system should grow to meet demand. There is no demand for it due to the way people live and work in Columbia.

    It’s like building Innovista buildings to meet a demand that didn’t exist. A dumb idea that anyone with any sense of fiscal responsibility would have squashed in a heartbeat. But when you’re spending other people’s money on grand ideas, it seems so much easier. No risk at all.

  14. Brad

    Yes, Doug, we’re familiar with your catchphrases. In your world, funds that are legitimately appropriated by a system governed by us via representative democracy is “spending other people’s money,” and therefore illegitimate. Which means that no system other than utter anarchy can possibly be legitimate.

    The demand, the very great need, is there. Speak to someone — say, at one of the hospitals — who relies on it for their employees to get to work. It’s also relied upon my many Midlands Tech students — who tend to be older, highly-motivated people trying to better themselves, as opposed to spoiled kids whose Mamas and Daddies by them an Escalade to go off to school with as freshmen.

  15. Doug Ross

    Why not take some of the useless hospitality tax and apply it to the bus system? That would be the best solution. It would address a need with a much higher priority than coming up with slogans and billboards.

    No elected official apparently has the skills necessary to prioritize spending. It’s always about where do we get additional tax revenues.

  16. Brad

    No, Doug, it isn’t. It’s about the fact that current sources of revenue are stretched trying to pay for current services without the transit system. That means cutting current services — which have already been cut — raising the rates on current taxes, or coming up with a new tax.

  17. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Bryan
    Dunno–if you have a great bus/train system, to the point that you don’t need a car, you save the time you spend maintaining a car–of course, you have your chauffeur do the maintenance, I know, but the rest of us…

    also, I used to read the WSJ on the morning train–here in Columbia, my drive times are so short that wouldn’t matter, but for people here who live out aways and have, say, a half hour commute, being able to work or catch up on reading can be a plus.

    and then there’s the whole environment thing–but that means thinking bigger than yourself and how many costs you can externalize….

  18. Doug Ross

    So let me see if I have this right, if you think the funds appropriated by the representative democracy are too high for a particular item, you are advocating anarchy.

    But if you think the funds allocated by that same representative democracy are too low, then you are just being a responsible adult in asking that they spend more on your pet project.

    It’s only when you suggest spending less based on doing a actual analysis of the cost/benefit that you are an anarchist.

    Funny how it works, huh?

  19. Doug Ross

    And you are very comfortable that the proceeds from the hospitality tax are spent on items as important to Columbia as the bus system?

  20. bud

    Brad, you didn’t really address Doug’s comment. Apparently the hospitality tax can only be used for worthless crap like a new fascade for the decrepit Township Auditorium but not for buses. City council could easily address this by simply eliminating the hospitality tax and implementing a bus tax. It could be collected in the same way but would be called something else. Seems like that would at least partially fund the buses without actually raising NEW taxes. If this isn’t enough then a new tax may indeed be needed. But without a repeal of the hospitality tax I couldn’t support a bus tax; it’s just too much of a burden to have both.

  21. Doug Ross

    How about all those bad business loans handed out by the City Council? Bet that money could have paid for a lot of bus riders…. but, again, we never talk about misspent money. Because their hearts are in the right place even if their wallets are in someone else’s pocket.

  22. Brad

    No, Doug — you are either intentionally (in order to craft a rhetorical point) or unintentionally misunderstanding me.

    “if you think the funds appropriated by the representative democracy are too high for a particular item,” then you participate in debate to try to affect future decisions more to your liking.

    BUT if you dismiss expenditures you dislike as “spending other people’s money,” then you are delegitimizing the system. Because money that is legitimately levied and appropriated is OUR money, as a political community, NOT “other people’s money.” And when you delegitimize the process, that is something else entirely. Perhaps you have in mind a system that exists that provides for infrastructure without “spending other people’s money,” but I am unaware of one. The only kind of system in which wealth from many people is NOT pooled through some decision-making process (elective bodies, a despot’s will, what have you), to my knowledge, would be anarchy.

    But perhaps that’s my own ignorance, and you know of a system that I don’t know of.

  23. Brad

    And Bud, I THINK you’re right that the hospitality tax can’t be spent on buses, but I’m not sure you’re right. So I was holding back from answering that until I had an answer…

    If you’re right, and I think you are, then what we have is yet another example of the tyranny of the Legislature over local governments. Rather than letting the governments closest to the people levy taxes and appropriate them according to the political will in those communities, legislators constantly dictate to them not only what kinds of taxes they can raise, but, to an absurd extent, how they can spend them.

    Another legacy of the Legislative State that was suppose to disappear with the passage of Home Rule in 1975, but did not.

    And most legislators don’t even know that they are a part of an historic trend in South Carolina. They just know that they can make promises to taxpayers to inhibit the taxing power of local governments, without having to worry about how local services will be provided under such straitened circumstances.

  24. Steven Davis II

    “Does any sane person actually move because of a $50 tax? Wow.”

    They do when they know in another 5 years that $50 tax will be $500 per vehicle as proposed. I have 4 vehicles, if someone said that in 5 years it would cost me $2000 per year to keep those vehicles but nothing in Richland County, I’d take a serious look at moving.

    What do you think businesses that use fleets of vehicles will do? Say plumbers, HVAC companies, etc. with 50-60 vehicles would do?

  25. Bryan Caskey

    First, I guarantee you that if you took the bus in Columbia to your destination, it would take you long enough that you could enjoy the newspaper, but that’s a bug, not a feature.

    I lived in Chicago-area for four years . The Chicago area and the outlying suburbs of Chicago is a great example of a place with a “great” bus/train system. A great number of people in the Chicago suburbs (and NW Indiana) take rail into the Loop in the AM and then back out in the PM.

    They still need a car, though. They only take the train in/out of the Loop for your commute to work in downtown Chicago.

    On weekends, you need a car to take the kids to soccer, to haul lumber to make things, to run errands, etc.

    Unless you live in downtown urban areas (the Loop in Chicago) (Manhattan in NY) and don’t leave them, public transportation isn’t a replacement for cars; at best it’s a supplement.

  26. Steven Davis II

    “Yes, Doug, we’re familiar with your catchphrases.”

    You mean those cathphrases that success is built upon?

    Do the “do gooders” smile when they see a single rider on a city bus knowing that they’re providing a valuable service for that lone rider? I look at it and think it’d be cheaper and more convenient to give that rider cab fare.

  27. Steven Davis II

    “It’s also relied upon my many Midlands Tech students”

    So when did you start teaching at Midland Tech?

  28. Steven Davis II

    “Why stop at a bus-system? I would much rather have full-scale elevated train system here in Columbia. Any objections? If so, why?”

    Because you’d see one rider per car.

  29. Steven Davis II

    Why is it my responsibility to see that another worker can get to work? Isn’t that their responsibility? I realize this is a time when everybody gets a trophy, but life can be tough sometimes, I went through it and got through times where I struggled financially and didn’t need the government to pick me up by stuffing taxpayer money in my pockets. I am where I am because I learned that if I was going to get where I was going (in life, not in a vehicle) that I needed to work harder and smarter. Did it suck, yes it did… but I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I sat back and accepted handouts like most of you are suggesting.

  30. Silence

    I’m not sure I’m convinced that current sources of revenue are stretched trying to pay for current services without the transit system. I think our various layers of government waste plenty of money, but I am also a realist, and a lot of the waste ain’t going away any time soon.

    If you do look at the numbers though, it gets a bit depressing:
    In 2006 it cost about $11M to run the CMRTA, I can’t find more recent data than that immediately, since they don’t put an annual report up on-line. According to the most recent decennial census, 1502 people in Richland County took public transportation to work, I assume some more took it for other purposes. If we merely look at the work related riders, the system cost 7,300 per rider for the year. That’s not very good. At all. You’ve got to do something to get the ridership up, b/c the system cost isn’t going to come down.

    I’m 99% sure that the pro-CMRTA forces will get the penny option tax passed on the next go-round, but I still think it’s cheating to earmark taxes for a specific purpose.

    We could save a boatload of money by:
    1) Having a countywide school district instead of 2.5 of ’em.
    2) Dissolving the city or merging it into a true metro government.
    3) Doing away with other special purpose districts – Park districts, TIF’s, etc.

    We have really not gotten serious yet about saving money. In fact, the city is increasing it’s overall bonded indebtedness….

  31. bud

    Let’s take this “tyranny of the legislature” to it’s logical conclusion. If the federal government passes an unfunded mandate that’s a type of tyranny. If the state government passes a law limiting local government on ways to tax and spend that’s also a form of tyranny. So when the local government passes a law that limits an individuals fredom to do something, like buy beer on Sunday or smoke pot, that too is a form of tyranny, perhaps the worst kind. I suggest we eliminate tyranny at all levels of government and let people live their lives. After all isn’t that the principal behind out country’s birth?

  32. Silence

    @ Brad – When you have a large portion of a population that receives more in benefits (not wages) than they pay in taxes, you are talking about OPM.

    @ bud & Doug – I’d love to talk about wasted money! I just don’t think that a reliable and well-run transit system is a waste. Not that I’m saying that ours is either, cause it’s not. But it should be, since there’s a 100% chance we are going to have one.

    I forgot to mention spinning down all of the various “development corporations” in my last posting. I completely support ridding the city of that scourge.

  33. Silence

    @ Brad – I don’t think that the hospitality tax can actually be spent on buses. There’s a shaky arguement to be made there, at best. It can however, be given in million dollar chunks to Columbia College and Benedict College for their athletic field landscaping.

  34. Brad

    Sometimes I think “Silence” is really me, posting under a pseudonym. How could that be, and me not know it? Well, maybe I’ve set off a hydrogen bomb, and reset reality so that I’m living a parallel existence without knowing it. (Yes, I’ve been watching too much “Lost.”)

    In any case, all three of your propositions — consolidating school districts, consolidating governmental jurisdictions, and doing away with SPDs — are things I’ve pushed hard on for years (well, the first and third ones — I haven’t pushed as hard on the second one as on the other two). And everyone who cares about good government agrees with me. And yet these things still do not happen. Welcome to South Carolina.

    Then the question becomes, how do I go ahead an improve my community in SPITE of the fact that I can’t bring about consolidation, or pay for buses with the hospitality tax, or any one of many other things we should be able to do but somehow can’t?

    Then I advocate for the penny sales tax increase. Not because I like adding to the sales tax burden. I don’t. We rely too much on that tax already. But because I can’t provide this essential service any other way.

    Reality means compromise. For instance, I’d like to see the entire penny spent on improving the bus service to the point that more of us want to ride it. But that proves to be politically impossible because the people who have working on this issue for years have been persuaded by experience that it’s politically impossible to get the money for buses without appropriating more for roads.

    I’m not entirely convinced that they’re right, but they are, and since that movement is the only game in town for doing ANYTHING to come up with the necessary funding for a decent bus system, that’s the effort I’ve endorsed.

    Not getting what I want, I’m at least trying to get what we need.

  35. Brad

    Several comments back, Stephen stated the essential fallacy that holds our communities back in South Carolina: “Why is it my responsibility to see that another worker can get to work? Isn’t that their responsibility?”

    It’s not that it’s your responsibility; it’s that it’s in your interest to do so. By doing so, you grow the local economy and enrich yourself and your neighbors. It’s the difference between living in a community with large numbers of people with no prospects, dragging the community down and often turning to crime, and living in a place where those same people contribute to the community and make it a better place for you to live.

    Silence states the same fallacy another way (thereby proving that he’s not really me): “When you have a large portion of a population that receives more in benefits (not wages) than they pay in taxes…”

    That’s looking at society as a collection of completely autonomous individuals who benefit in no way from improved conditions in the community as a whole.

    Human beings realized long ago that they had to have ways of ordering the communities in which they live, because not having such structures doesn’t work for individuals any more than for the whole community. And they experimented for millennia on different systems before coming up with representative democracy — which is still not perfect, but beats the others hollow.

    For it to work, people have to make rational decisions as a community and for the community, without acting like jealous siblings and counting up how much each individual contributes or receives in benefits at a given point in time. The focus has to be on policies that promote peace and order and prosperity, and the best ways a government can do those things is to create conditions that enable individuals to pursue their goals and ambitions to the fullest. Roads help with that, and so do schools, and so does a transit system. As Bobby Hitt said last year, “BMW has never built an Interstate highway, and has no plans to do so in the future.” That’s the job of the government, to create conditions in which individuals and private entities can thrive.

  36. Brad

    Another way to look at the fallacy in what Stephen says is to transfer it to roads instead of transit. Following the same “logic,” Stephen would complain that it is not his responsibility to pay for roads that he does not drive on, just so others can get to work or take their products to market or whatever.

    Which overlooks the fact that if the only road was between Stephen’s home and his workplace, then he probably wouldn’t have a workplace, because the local economy wouldn’t support it.

  37. bud

    Brad, you’re right in your analysis. We do need a good bus system with sensible and efficient routes. Heck I’d love to ride into work some days if the bus came to Lexington.

    But here’s the rub. We are already taxed heavily in this community. 9% for restaraunt meals seems exhorbitant. Take your typical $12 dinner meal in downtown Columbia. If you take your spouse that becomes $24 bucks. Add the various taxes we’re now talking $22.16. Leave an 18% tip – $3.93 (apparently that’s the new standard for a tip) and we’re up to $26.15 for two people to get a nice salad or a cheesburger and a drink. Go somewhere fancy and it could end up $40 or even $50 bucks. Add a mixed drink and you can easily spend $60. How many folks in this weak economy can do that very often? So it’s absolutely imperative that government find things to cut out and to get around the limits on the hospitality tax in order to fund the buses without the new penny on everything. Eventually folks will quit eating meals in downtown Columbia. It is just too expensive.

  38. Silence

    @ Brad – I am pretty sure I’m not you. I’m younger, better looking, and I haven’t watched Lost!

    Regarding your “fallacy” statement – My view is that everyone should have some “skin in the game” – everyone, even the least of us, should pay something. Perhaps that’s a bit regressive, but it’s important to remind folks that for every benefit, there is a cost, and we should all share in the burden. That’s why at least some sales tax is desirable in the taxation mix.

    As I argued for before though, I’d prefer to see all of the taxes go in a big pot and get spent according to our comunity needs, with no special set-asides or taxes sold to the public for a particular project. Frequently the project goes away long before the taxes do, hence we are still paying a fee for rural phone service and probably ‘lectric as well.

    Truth be told, we subsidize lower-waged people in many ways. Medicaid, S-CHIP, public schools, ABC vouchers for daycare, EITC, and yes, public transportation. In order to have a value menu at McD’s, we must make certain subsidies, you see….

    That’s an oversimplification of course. Middle class and rich people receive some wealth transfers as well, not just the poor, and the public transit rider in question is just as likley to be working at the hospital as at McD’s.

  39. bud

    My math is wrong. The $24 meal for two comes to $30.87. Saw the mistake as soon as I hit the submit button.

  40. Brad

    Again, Silence is sounding like me: “As I argued for before though, I’d prefer to see all of the taxes go in a big pot and get spent according to our comunity needs, with no special set-asides or taxes sold to the public for a particular project.”

    Indeed. I don’t much like special taxes for special purposes, even when there’s a logical cause-and-effect relationship, such as between the gas tax and roads.

    The practice of designating certain taxes to certain purposes in order to gain political buy-in (such as with Social Security taxes) is just a step or two away from making budgeting decisions by referendum, and that way lies madness. The best system is to delegate the setting of priorities to elected representatives, and pay our taxes so that those priorities might be met. And if we don’t like the priorities that the representatives set, we elect other representatives. But the overall public needs of the community need to be looked at as a whole. Otherwise, you have people paying only for the momentarily popular items — say, a football stadium instead of maintaining the sewer system.

  41. `Kathryn Fenner

    The way the H tax got passed was that the revenues were supposed to “give back” to the taxed industries–attracting more customers, which the athletics fields arguably do, but the buses do not. Is this proper? Maybe not, but there was a powerful lobbyist who was very effective.

    Taxing tourists (and out-of-town legislators!) makes sense, so H and A taxes are a way to do it. H is a luxury item–eating out, but tourism is a huge industry in our state.

  42. Brad

    OK, I’ve done a little poking around on the hospitality tax question, and it appears that it is as I assumed: You can’t do it.

    It’s not a slam-dunk NO, but it’s close enough to make it politically impossible. It would be very hard to make the case, in Columbia, that the bus system would be a legal application (that is, fitting within the restrictions imposed by the Legislature) for spending hospitality funds. I’m told that Columbia and Richland County have studied the possibility multiple times. They always came up with no for an answer. At one point, Henry McMaster opined it would be illegal and that the alternative was to get the law changed. They’ve made modest attempts to make that happen with no progress. One problem is lack of support from the hospitality industry, which has the job of collecting the tax.

  43. Doug Ross

    Apparently the hospitality tax laws are like the laws of gravity and physics. Once enacted, it’s impossible to change them.

    Funny how it’s SOOOOO hard to change a tax law once its created. Can’t ask whether the money is spent wisely or if it should be spent at all. Spend it all before someone takes it away to use on something meaningful.

    Until you can convince me that tax dollars spent on landscaping football fields is more important than tax dollars spent on a bus system, your desire to increase my taxes falls on deaf ears.

    Liberal lambs love spending other people’s money on their pet causes. It’s sickening to think that people think they are being altruistic by taking money from X to give to Y.

  44. Steven Davis II

    “Stephen would complain that it is not his responsibility to pay for roads that he does not drive on, just so others can get to work or take their products to market or whatever.”

    Nope, because roads actually serve a useful purpose and you tend to see more than a handful of people using them. But I’d probably complain about a paved road that only lead up to a single Richland County councilwoman’s house.

    “Which overlooks the fact that if the only road was between Stephen’s home and his workplace, then he probably wouldn’t have a workplace, because the local economy wouldn’t support it.”

    Nope again, I have two gas/diesel guzzling 4×4 vehicles, one which could get me to work even if the Gervais Street bridge washed out.

  45. bud

    I’m not suggesting we use the so-called Hospitality Tax to fund the buses. That’s obviously a legal nightmare. What I’m saying is the city needs to craft a bill that REPEALS the H tax in exchange for a bus tax. Surely the city can find a way to do that.

  46. Silence

    I like the idea of taxing legislators, can we pursue that as a way to pay for programs? How about a 50% surtax on all of their legislative and non-legislative earnings? Have it apply to municipal, county, state and federal elected officials?

  47. Doug Ross

    What have you done lately to demonstrate your selflessness?

    Want to compare charitable deductions?

    I bet I gave more money to homeless people on the streets of Chicago this week than you have given in Columbia this year. Want to take that bet?

    You can’t grasp the idea that when politicians have no stake in the spending of tax dollars, it is done in an inefficient manner. They spend without risk. They spend to reward certain people. They spend money they do not have to earn or conserve. That creates the habits that creates the inefficient wasteful government we have. The only way to stop it is to limit the money they can waste.

  48. Silence

    @Steven – 1) Ms. Scott’s road paving project made it to the front of the priority list on its own merit!
    2) I’d like to see you fording the Congaree in your 4×4. In fact, when you are ready to try, let me know so I can be there. I’ll bring the Scout down in case you need a winching.

  49. Silence

    @ Doug – giving money directly to the homeless doesn’t actually help them. It does however, help out the local liquor store owner or convenience store owner. There I go perpetuating stereotypes again. It’s generally better to give to an agency, though, than to give money to panhandlers.

  50. Steven Davis II

    Silence – What are you going to do with a International Scout, sit in it and watch while listening to it rust?

  51. bud

    I agree with Doug on this one. The hospitality tax as it is currently being used is vile. If it’s so hard to repeal it then we should be extra careful about raising taxes in the future. I would never support a special bus tax UNLESS and only UNLESS the H tax is repealed.

  52. Brad

    Then you’re not going to support the tax for transportation. Which is a shame, because the people trying to bring decent public transit to the community have no power over the hospitality tax.

    What we need, of course, is what I’ve called for over the past 20 years — comprehensive tax reform. An element in that should be the Legislature getting out of local government’s business altogether. But of course I’m REALLY engaging in wishful thinking there.

  53. Brad

    The last serious effort to free local governments from state shackles was Bob Sheheen’s Local Government Finance Act, right after I moved home to South Carolina in the late 80s.

    Even as speaker over a majority of his own party, he couldn’t get it passed. Out of about five main initiatives, the only one that made it into law, as I recall, was the local-option sales tax penny.

    There’s been no one in power at the State House since then who was even remotely interested in the issue.

  54. Doug Ross


    “@ Doug – giving money directly to the homeless doesn’t actually help them.”

    Tell that to the guy who was going to sell his plasma. My $20 bucks kept that from happening. Are you okay with that?

    And I have spent hundreds of dollars in the past to provide the homeless who show up monthly at First Baptist Church with socks, shoes, sleeping bags, toiletries, etc. But at the same time, if someone asks me for money, I give them money. I don’t care what they do with it. Maybe it stops them from committing a crime to get the money.

  55. Doug Ross

    There is a difference between being against wasteful spending on projects that are inefficient and wasteful regardless of the intent and being selfish.

    Just as there is a difference between asking others to pay taxes to support some cause you think is noble and actually doing something personally about it.

  56. Silence

    @ Brad – As your senator, I’ll work to stop state intrusion on local governments.

    As a taxpayer, I’d gladly swap the hospitality tax for a transit tax, or preferably just for a general fund tax that council could spend/waste as it sees fit.

    @ Steven – The Scout’s two year long “rust-ectomy” is almost complete. It will soon be better than new and more rust resistant. Thanks for asking.

    @ Doug – clerking in a liquor store during college broke me of donating money to homeless folks. Much better to donate clothes and toiletries. Also, if they are panhandling and vagrant they are already commiting a crime.

  57. Phillip

    @Bud, I can’t concur with the word “vile” as regards the allocation of H-tax funds. There’s vital support in there for a lot of things that go towards making Columbia an increasingly interesting and vibrant community and that includes (directly or indirectly) economic vibrancy. I happen to think that support for the Zoo, museums, Nick, Historic Columbia, SC Phil, and some of the more worthy festivals etc are relatively modest investments that rebound to our city’s great benefit.

    There ARE, however, interesting and worthwhile questions that could and should be raised about the process of awarding those grants, and some of the priorities involved (always interesting to me we have TWO ballet companies in such a small city, together receiving over 5 times what the SC Phil—woefully underfunded IMO—gets). Also the process of allocation could be more transparent, although you can find the info here quite easily. Including who is on the panel for H-tax allocations. And that brings up interesting questions, such as: why is someone on the H-tax allocation panel who is also the Director of a major organization in town that receives one of the absolute largest H-tax allocations annually? Perhaps they recuse themselves from any discussion of their organization, but one might like reassurance of that. In such a small city, there’s so much potential for either conflict-of-interest or sometimes just as bad, the appearance of same, which doesn’t breed confidence.

  58. Brad

    I used to always give to panhandlers. My philosophy was that if a person would degrade himself to that point that he would ASK, the least I could do was give. The idea of a person lowering himself to that degree and being refused was too painful for me to contemplate.

    But then, a series of bad incidents broke me of the habit. For instance, there was the guy in Five Points that time when I was Christmas shopping with my son. He came up and begged for alms, and I gave him a buck or two, as an example to my son. Then, when we came out of a store a short while later, he came up and asked AGAIN, and I gave him a couple of bucks, just to show my son that even when someone is being a total pain about it, and extremely presumptuous, you should set aside your feelings and give.

    Then, not long after, we came out of another store and he asked AGAIN. That was the last straw for me.

    Incidents like that taught me that there are some people who, in their own eyes, are not degrading themselves to ask. It’s not costing them anything. It’s just business — ask 10 times, and at least one person will give…

    Now, when they approach me with that look in their eyes, I go ahead and say “no” — and feel like the worst person in the world every time I do it.

    My wife has a different approach — she says “no” to men. But if it’s a woman, and she mentions her kids, she gives. Because it’s far more likely with a woman that it will actually go to the kids. (This is a fact; statistics support it.) I’ll probably give to a woman, too. It’s just been awhile since one asked.

  59. Silence

    @ Brad – That’s like when Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is panhandling down in Tampico at the beginning of “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” He asks the well dressed American for a handout repeatedly and finally the gentleman says: ” Such impudence never came my way. Early this afternoon I gave you money… while I was having my shoes polished I gave you MORE money… now you put the bite on me again. Do me a favor, will ya? Go occasionally to somebody else – it’s beginning to get tiresome.”

  60. Silence

    @ Phillip – Are the multiple local ballet companies actually local, or are they actually out of Asheville or somewhere else, like the Opera? I ask that because unfortunately, I haven’t noticed a lot of ballerinas around town. Which is a shame.

  61. `Kathryn Fenner

    The local ballet companies are locally owned and operated. The dancers are from everywhere and seldom local residents (whereas the Phil musicians are largely local residents, with some others coming from Augusta and elsewhere nearby). The powers behind the ballet companies are very powerful and well-connected. The Phil not so much, which is a shame. The Phil folks I know are in what could be powerful positions but not particularly likely to flex their muscles.

  62. `Kathryn Fenner

    It is much better to give to agencies than individuals. Agencies investigate their recipients to ensure fair distribution and that the funds go to worthier ends. Giving money to panhandlers encourages also panhandling, which has a very deleterious effect on the downtown business communities. Many people cite panhandlers as a major reason they avoid Five Points.

  63. Doug Ross

    I once gave a guy $10 in the parking lot at Sam’s because he said he needed something to eat. I was pleasantly surprised to see him again in Walmart a short while later buying actual food products.

    That’s why I respond to every request. You never know when that could be the one thing that helps a person turn the corner.

  64. Brad

    Yep. Which is why I’m so torn about it, Doug. I certainly stick up for the decision that you make. I’ve just been too conflicted about it in recent years.

    So I give to organizations that have the institutional capacity to make sure something positive is getting done… But I always feel bad when I turn down a beggar. In fact, just typing about it here makes me feel like next time, I won’t be able to say “no”…

  65. Brad

    The very worst incident happened to me in New York a few years ago. A guy hit me up for a buck, and I said I had no cash, but was on my way to get some lunch, and would have a buck for him on my way back.

    So he waited.

    And when I came back, I gave him a buck. And he got extremely indignant: “That’s it?” He was furious that he had waited there for several minutes, for nothing more than a dollar. Hey, I wouldn’t have put in the time for a dollar, either, but that’s what I had promised him…

    His utter contempt for me as a cheapskate really left a bad taste…

  66. Silence

    @ Doug/Brad – More words of wisdom from Fred Dobbs, “Conscience. What a thing. If you believe you got a conscience it’ll pester you to death. But if you don’t believe you got one, what could it do t’ya? Makes me sick, all this talking and fussing about nonsense.”

    Anyways, teach a man to fish and all that….

  67. Brad

    Another confession here…

    They say that the most laudable, most worthy kind of charity is PERSONAL charity… looking the person being helped in the eye, actually physically giving a helping hand, in person.

    But it’s always made me really uncomfortable. It makes me feel self-righteous, or like someone may think I’m self-righteous, like maybe that person thinks that I think he or she should be bowing down before me for my generosity. It’s just so embarrassing. I find myself thinking that accepting alms would be so much easier for the other person if he or she didn’t have to look the benefactor in the face. It’s just so very awkward.

    I’d rather give the money to someone else who then passes on the benefit to the needy person. That seems more like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

    Of course, maybe I’m making excuses. Maybe it’s just that I’m not a people person. My late mother-in-law used to say, according to my wife, that there are two kinds of people in the world: People people and things people. When my wife first told me that, I said I didn’t think I was either. To which she said she thought I was right, and remembered that there was a small, third category: ideas people.

    That’s pretty much what I am. And I think I prefer the idea of helping people to actually, directly, personally, physically helping them. Which doesn’t sound very laudable, does it?

  68. Brad

    It’s sort of related to the fact that I’ve always thought that if I were a physician, I’d want to be a hands-off diagnostician like Dr. House, and not actually SEE patients.

    And we know that HE’S not a very likable guy…

  69. Brad

    Silence, I prefer the way Huck Finn approached it:

    “But that’s always the way; it don’t make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, nohow.”

  70. Steven Davis II

    “Agencies investigate their recipients to ensure fair distribution and that the funds go to worthier ends.”

    Do you really expect Haley’s girlfriends recently placed in director positions to actually do this? That seems like a lot of work for women who want to work part-time while raising their kids.

  71. Steven Davis II

    The only problem with Doug giving the guy $10, is he’s likely to mention it to someone else who mentions it to someone else and the next thing you know you have a half-dozen panhandlers standing in that spot watching for Doug to walk by.

  72. Steven Davis II

    Brad, you’re not a “people person”? Holy cow, how far down the ladder do people like me stand? I’ll give a homeless man’s dog something to eat and tell the homeless man to stop bothering me.

  73. Silence

    @ Brad – According to Maimonides, you would be somewhere down near the bottom of the “eight levels of giving”, I’d say between level 6 and level 7.
    In order, from best to worst:

    1) Elevating someone out of dependance on others. (Job, free loan or gift to start a business)

    2) To give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from whom he received. (Agency/Organizational giving)

    3) When one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. (An anonymous gift)

    4) When one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. (A scholarship in your own name)

    5) When one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked. (It would take chutzpah to do this one, how can you tell if someone is in need or just a slob?)

    6) When one gives to the poor person after being asked. (Doug & Brad giving a sawbuck on the street)

    7) When one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile. (Feeling good about the spare change you just donated.)

    8) When one gives unwillingly. (How does this even happen?)

    – Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7–14

  74. Silence

    @Doug and Brad, – Good job!
    Don’t forget that it’s also a mitzvah to come over and do yardwork at my house….

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