Some thoughts on Nikki Haley’s State of the State

Haley speech

I don’t have time today to go into great depth on this, but I thought I’d share several scattered thoughts I had about the governor’s speech and reactions to it, each of which could be developed into an extensive post on its own:

  • I was pleased that she was willing to share credit on the Department of Administration bill with Vincent Sheheen. Yeah, she did it in a backhanded way, mentioning him in the middle of a list of eight people “who have been down in the trenches fighting to make this a reality,” when in truth this bill started with Sen. Sheheen years before she got involved with it. But the fact that she gave him praise and credit at all makes her look a lot more honest and generous than this mean-sounding passage from Sheheen’s own statement about passage of the bill: “South Carolinians have had to wait long enough for the accountability they deserve from Governor Haley and her administration. I urge the Governor to sign my bill immediately.” As though she was reluctant or something, which obviously she was not. This tone is unlike Vincent Sheheen, and unlikely to help him unseat the governor.
  • Yeah, the governor has been taking her responsibility to govern far more seriously lately — for which I’ve praised her here (while Dems grumble about too little, too late). She’s the first governor in decades to seriously address funding equity for public schools, she wants to do more for the mentally ill, and she’s decided to drop her politically convenient Kulturkampf against the arts in SC. But unfortunately, she hasn’t dropped the intellectually offensive, neo-Confederate-style rhetoric aimed at feeding the delusions of her Tea Party base: “it is my firm belief that the federal government causes far more harm to South Carolina than good… Those running the federal government make our job more difficult, day in and day out. Unfortunately, that is simply the reality we are faced with…. We rejected the federal government’s less than generous offer to run a state exchange, an offer that would have Washington bureaucrats dictating the exchange and South Carolinians paying for it. And, with your help, we emphatically said no to the central component of Obamacare, the expansion of a broken Medicaid program that is already cannibalizing our budget, and would completely destroy it in the years to come.” Her Medicaid assertions add up to one huge lie, and her refusal, along with that of legislative leaders, to refuse the expansion is the single most indefensible failure of leadership in her tenure. It was deeply immoral, pound-foolish, a drag on the state’s economy, and the biggest case of placing ideology over serving the public that I have seen in many a year in this state. She likes to talk about job growth, but not about the thousands of healthcare jobs that the federally funded expansion would have brought, and which she turned away.
  • I liked it that she quoted the father of her party, Abraham Lincoln. We don’t hear enough of that from Republicans these days, particularly not Tea Party Republicans, and most particularly not Southern Tea Party Republicans.
  • She said, “Our tax code needs to be simpler, flatter, and fairer.” Well, it certainly needs to be simpler and fairer. In fact, the whole system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. But there is no way that the main thing we need in South Carolina is tax cuts, despite the fact that Republicans have come to Columbia ever since they took control of the House in 1994 with the firm belief that that’s pretty much all the state does need. James Smith criticized her for wanting to fund road maintenance with found money (I think that’s what he meant with his “money tree” thing), rather than dedicating a reliable revenue source. Her promise to veto any gas tax increase is an immature cry against rational policy. To say you want to improve roads and won’t consider the tax increase to pay for it is governance by ideological fantasy. And if she wants to help business, then push to get lawmakers to reverse the effects of Act 388, which as I’ve written before ” distorted our whole tax system — putting an excessive burden on businesses and renters, and shifting the load for supporting public schools onto the volatile, exemption-ridden sales tax — for the sake of the subset of homeowners who lived in high-growth areas.” Act 388, by the way, was one of the big reasons why the state Chamber backed Sheheen, rather than Rep. Haley, in the 2010 election.
  • She was also generous and bipartisan in crediting the lawmakers who helped her come up with her new approach on education funding — “Senator John Courson, Senator Wes Hayes, Senator John Matthews, Senator Nikki Setzler, Representative Kenny Bingham, Representative Jackie Hayes, and Representative Phil Owens.”
  • In the moments after the speech, as ETV got reaction from lawmakers in the chamber, someone (I missed the name; I was busy as I listened) was talking about government waste, and mentioned once again the “Green Bean Museum.” Apparently, there have been no instances of “government waste” in the six years or so since that one came up, because it remains everybody’s first example for “proving” their belief that all government does is run around looking for things to waste our money on. Let me give a little perspective on that — Lake City sought funding for restoring a building that is a great source of local pride, the Bean Market. Trucks and trains came from all over the country to drive through that building and pick up green beans, as this was the biggest distribution point for that commodity in the region, and perhaps in the nation (I forget which). Fixing it up was related to Darla Moore’s desire to spark a renaissance in her hometown. The request didn’t come out of nowhere; it was one of a large number of purely local projects competing for money from a fund dedicated to such boosterish things. The state not only refused this request, it did so with extreme prejudice, with scorn and ridicule. Darla Moore essentially said to hell with the Legislature, and just used her own money. Her expenditures on Lake City over the last few years have been in eight figures annually. The Bean Market now houses local economic development offices, an indoor farmer’s market, and a rental venue for private functions. It’s at the centerpiece of a growing downtown complex that features a museum dedicated to agriculture-themed art, an outdoor performing arts venue, new upscale shops and restaurants, and a soon-to-be hotel — all aimed at bringing visitors through the community and building back its economy. Anyway, I thought maybe y’all should know some of that.
  • I loved what Harvey Peeler said about how even though the governor has now given four of these speeches, she “still has that new car smell.” He can turn a phrase. Not for nothing is he the best Tweeter in the Senate…

13 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Nikki Haley’s State of the State

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    What I did NOT like from Sen. Peeler was when he rolled over like a submissive puppy to the governor’s irresponsible position on a reliable revenue source for our roads:

    “I know there is going to be a great debate on whether to have a fuel tax increase. She announced to the world tonight she would veto it. So, in the real world, we need to do something that we can accomplish. … A gas tax increase this year is a nonstarter.”

  2. barry

    I’ve been to the bean market when they were remodeling it. Nice place – and also contributed to some nice construction jobs at the time.

    Sorry to see that about Sen. Peeler. He’s a big road improvement guy too. It’s as if he doesn’t know that most south Carolina citizens are actually in favor of a gas tax increase if it goes directly for road improvements.

    1. Doug Ross

      I’m for a gas tax increase on two conditions:

      1) It is only used for roads or for building up a fund for future road repairs
      2) the process of determining how the money is spent is completely open to public review

      It’s #2 that concerns me the most. That would be a huge bucket of money that could be spent on pet projects.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Everyone note: Doug and I are in complete agreement.

        And if Doug and I can agree, it persuades me that the idea has enough appeal for the Legislature to pass it with enough support to override a veto.

        If only they have the courage and wisdom to make the effort…

        1. Doug Ross

          I’m not opposed to taxes that are fairly apportioned.

          Unlike the car property tax which makes no sense at all. What is the purpose of that tax? Why should someone pay more because a car is worth more? Come up with a flat fee per vehicle and eliminate the whole bureaucracy of collecting that tax. Fold it into the DMV as a yearly fee to renew your tags.

          1. bud

            I would actually go in the opposite direction. The car tax percentage should increase with the value of the vehicle. A small, old car should be valued at say 1% while a brand new $100,000 Mercedes would command a 10% rate.

            As an alternate approach we could impose a gas mileage premium on gas guzzlers and give electric cars a pass. Use the extra to pave the roads.

          2. Mark Stewart

            Or we could make the car tax regressive inversely proportional to the MPG (or eMPG) of the vehicle – since gas taxes are structured to suffer as a revenue source when fuel economy improves. Regardless of fuel efficiency, the roads continue to deteriorate with use (or without) at the same rates.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    Didn’t ARRA spend something like $105 billion on infrastructure just a few years ago? I guess SC didn’t get any of that money.

    That aside, if Doug’s preconditions are met, I’d support a gas tax increase. I’d probably add some more pre-conditions if I had my way, but I can live with those two.

    1. bud

      Count me as a yes to Doug’s conditions. In theory all road projects are supposed to have public hearings but these are often just for show. I would be more concerned that qualified engineers and environmental folks are on board to be sure the projects are actually needed for safety and/or traffic flow considerations. And in the case of something completely ridiculous like the I-526 extension project perhaps some type of public referendum could be held to at least see if there is anyone who actually supports the project.

  4. bud

    As for the Green Bean Museum it seems to me that this example shows why state funding for these types of projects is completely unnecessary. The project went forward without taxpayers from Gaffney, Loris and Allendale forced to kick in to benefit the folks of Lake City. A better example is the Hunley. Why one dime of state money was ever spent on that silly project I’ll never know.

  5. bud

    As for the gas tax, indeed it has dropped dramatically in real dollar terms for years now for several reasons. First, the tax is based on gallons, not dollars. In effect a 10 gallon fill-up yields the same 1.68 today in spite of the fact that the price has probably tripled. Inflation alone has eaten up much of the revenue. Second, cars get better gas mileage. Third, mileage driven per capita has declined somewhat in recent years. As a result the real take on the gas tax is sharply lower than it was 20 years ago.

  6. Joseph Azar

    Why not scrap the gas tax and apply sales tax to it?

    I am not for any increase in the gas tax, or a sales tax on it either, unless ALL of it is used ONLY for roads. Far too often, our politicians take from one supposedly dedicated fund to support another, such as Columbia with the water system, or the Fed with social security. But this also asks the question, why does not initial set up of taxes consider the long term needs and include that into what is taken in, so there is always a reserve for repairs?

    Another factor in road wear is weight, so why not also base car tax on weight, more so than car value? Charge a higher fee for heavier cars and trucks, which wear a road much faster than light cars.

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