Open Thread for Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It’s been another busy day for me, allowing little time for blogging.

But here are some possible topics:

  1. Lawmakers getting “creative” on paying for roads — Robert’s cartoon above reminds me of what I have been meaning to write about, but hadn’t gotten to. Lawmakers continue to contort themselves in trying to figure a way to pay for roads in this state (when we HAVE a way to pay for roads, the gasoline tax — which should have been raised long before now). The most bizarre nonsolution I’ve heard is this shell game in which the same inadequate amount of money would simply be divvied up to the counties and let THEM take the blame for crumbling roads. I am somewhat intrigued, though, at the idea of simply applying the sales tax to gasoline — which addresses one of the greatest weaknesses in the gas tax, which is that it’s per-gallon and doesn’t rise with the price of fuel.
  2. POTUS about to announce executive action on immigration — I couldn’t figure out a way to embed the president’s video on this subject, but if you click on the picture below, it will take you there. It’s showdown time. For my part, I await what the president is specifically proposing to do, and I hope that he reaction to it will be, you know, rational. You know what would be the BEST, most constructive, reaction? For the House to pre-empt the president’s executive action by passing the comprehensive immigration reform that the Senate sent over to it.
  3. SC Supremes say probate judges can issue same-sex marriage licenses — This came down at about 4 today, lifting the court’s own Oct. 9 injunction pending a decision in a federal court case, which has since been decided at the trial court level. Interestingly, the case in question wasn’t about whether a couple could get married, but about the related issue of whether SC would have to recognize a marriage granted elsewhere — the very same scenario that prompted conservatives to push for their constitutional amendment on marriage several years ago.
  4. NBC pulls Bill Cosby sitcom amid renewed sexual assault allegations — It’s fascinating to watch the way public consensus develops. For years, the world ignored the young women making these accusations, refusing to believe such of “the Cos.” Then, a tipping point was reached, and suddenly this much loved media figure falls, hitting every branch on the way down. It’s got to seem pretty weird to the women who’ve been trying to get us to listen for years.

Or… you can talk about whatever you want to talk about…

Obama immigration


40 thoughts on “Open Thread for Wednesday, November 19, 2014

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I have an update on the Palmetto Compress Warehouse project: the contract has been assigned to a developer with the means and experience to complete the project. Rosie Craig has retained an interest. There will be a hotel, retail and multi-family on the site. Yay!

      1. Mark Stewart

        I’ll jump in: What is the now agreed timetable to close? Clearly the original agreement has long since expired, with no word from the City, no?

        Anyone at the City still trumpeting profits from this sale?

        1. Doug Ross

          How about we wait until a) there is a final accounting on this transaction, b) an actual plan that describes the construction, and c) them actually completing the construction.

          I’m not big on celebrating plans.

          1. Libb

            Profits? Doubtful about that…hopefully they will at least make enough to return the monies ($7 million, I think) “borrowed” from the employee retirement fund.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              The contract price is greater than the amount spent by the city. The city will make a profit so long as the contract is fulfilled, and given the strength of the developer, it will be.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          The agreement with the city, a/k/a the contract that was assigned, has been extended. I don’t know what the timetable is.
          This is a huge and unique project. Takes time to get it right.

          1. Doug Ross

            Over a year so far… is there any accounting for the outlays of tax dollars so far that have not been recouped?

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              1. Not your tax dollars
              2. I believe they have been recouped, but you’d have to inquire of the city finance director for details.
              3. A year, or two, is not a long time for this kind of project!

            2. Doug Ross

              If a single penny of taxes I pay to Richland County or the State of South Carolina or to the businesses in Columbia goes to this project, I have an interest in what happens to it.

              Why should I have to ask for an accounting of the costs and return? That should be provided without asking for it. This was sold as a good deal financially for the city. Prove it.

              If it was going to take this long, why did they set an initial closing date six months ago? The extension has taken longer than the initial closing period. That’s either poor planning or trying to work some deal behind the scenes.

            3. Kathryn Fenner

              I believe the short deadline was set for political reasons.
              I just don’t have the accounting information at hand. If you want it, you’ll have to ask someone who has it. I am sure City Council has been apprised of this as it has unfolded.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    and i am heartened by the marriage of two women in Charleston. We are joining the enlightened world, whether we like it or not!

    1. Brad Warthen

      Enlightenment, true enlightenment, would be nice. A consummation devoutly to be wished.

      Forgive me. I watched the Ethan Hawke version of “Hamlet” last night. Before that, I watched Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing. ” which was quite good…

    2. Mark Stewart

      Alan Wilson did himself no credit on this one, hiding behind his inane statement that it is his responsibility as AG to vigorously uphold all SC laws to the bitter end.

    3. Andrew G

      Would that be the type of enlightenment that constitutional law professor, Barack Obama, opposed until two years ago?

      Or the type of enlightenment that was unknown in human civilization until less than two decades ago?

      I will be curious to learn what other unenlightened path will be clear in the years to come, that have remained totally oblivious to human civilization, until future blessed moments arrive.

      Any guesses to what those might be? I’d love to know, so I can begin to feel superior already.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Most people knew slavery was immoral – for hundreds of years before this society was able to adhere and accept that reality. You would agree with this basic immorality, no?

        This seems to me to be a basic right. This is going to be such a non-issue in 5 years… Importantly, this is good for kids.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Except in Alan Wilson’s mind…I think he plans to succeed and join the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals – for as long as that anomaly still stands as clearly the US Supreme Court is going to overturn that as well.

        Somehow SC is always being pulled backwards, by someone.

        Congratulations to those who stood up and pressed this issue onward in the face of both silent disapproval and open disregard of equality of opportunity – they showed far more leadership than any elected official did.

  3. Lynn Teague

    If the amount of money available to fix the roads isn’t enough when the state is responsible, why would the allocation be sufficient when the counties are responsible? It isn’t as if the counties can add other funds to a state allocation — the General Assembly has closed off every avenue that they might have had to raise additional funds. This is not a solution. A pot hole not maintained by the county has exactly the same damaging effect on our vehicles and public safety as pot holes not maintained by the state.

    1. Harry Harris

      That is right on the mark. On Brad’s point about sales vs per gallon tax, Ii like it as per gallon. The wear and tear on roads is per gallon (or mile driven) no matter what gasoline costs. Making it a percentage would exacerbate ill effects of price rises, and bring in less per gallon as prices fell. The state gasoline tax should simply go up to raise money needed to maintain, repair, and build roads. My wife’s car gets 50 mpg, and so we pay less per mile for the miles driven, but we also help with the demand effect and pollute less. I still wouldn’t mind an increase in the gas tax with perhaps a small hybrid/electric or high mileage vehicle fee added to the licencing fee. It shouldn’t be enough to dampen demand for high-efficiency vehicles, maybe $20-30 per year – about the amount we would save on the tax portion of gasoline if it were taxed at the level needed.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Very good point about what would happen to revenues when prices are down, as they are now. Of course, when prices are high enough to depress demand, I’m guessing (I’d have to check to know), that would lower revenues under the per-gallon situation…

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Gasoline has a relatively high inelasticity of demand. That is, if you raise the price, people will grouse and grumble, but there isn’t a viable alternative for most consumers of gasoline, especially in the short run (1-2 years). Also, you have to also think about how much it will result in a decrease traffic, as I assume that traffic is a factor in road wear.

        For instance, if you raise price of gasoline by 10% (through taxes or otherwise) you’ll see about a short run drop in fuel consumed of about 2-3% over the short run (a year or less) but increasing over the long run to about 6%.

        However, traffic will go down very little, maybe 1-2%, even in the long run, because people will still drive, but they’ll drive more fuel-efficient vehicles like Mr. Harris, or shift to driving at non-peak times (better traffic).

        No larger point here, just food for thought.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    I asked a friend of mine who is an engineer that does work for the SCDOT about road wear. Here is his response:

    Pavement design falls under the responsibility of the SCDOT Office of Materials and Research and is its own category of civil engineering. There are probably hundreds or thousands of research projects out there to help state DOT’s properly design pavements and SCDOT has had several research projects from both USC and Clemson conducted to help develop, modernize, and update our pavement design guidelines.

    “With that said (I know enough to be dangerous), Truck Traffic has the biggest influence on pavement design and deterioration. Traffic volume is not as important as the percentage of trucks in that volume (tractor-trailers way a lot more than passenger vehicles). Permit vehicles (trucks weighing more than the nationally-defined legal load but have obtained a state oversize/overweight permit to operate) and illegal loads are common in South Carolina and do the most damage to our state’s bridges and pavements. Clemson did a good research project quantifying the costs:
    South Carolina laws are very lenient on the Trucking industry and our state road system pays the price.

    Freeze-thaw cycle is another big factor, as you mentioned, which is why you typically see more potholes in the springtime after icy winters.”

  5. Pat

    Regarding truck traffic: If I recall correctly, there was a bill in Congress last year to allow big rigs to pull three trailers. Frankly, I call that a train, and it needs to be on a railroad track. We should invest in the rail systems to save lives, roads, and fuel and use trucks to transport in state from hubs. And there should be an increase in the gas tax. It is absurd to shift road repair costs to the county.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I remember back when Lamar Alexander was governor of Tennessee, and he stood up against letting double-trailer trucks pass through the state. He eventually lost that battle — the pressure from the trucking industry was pretty intense, because if you can’t pass through Tennessee, you’re in trouble as a distributor — but I admired him for holding out as long as he did…

    2. Harry Harris

      Agreed. And why don’t we use incentives and mandates to push our bus and truck fleets toward propane conversion – far less polluting, abundant and cheap, and cuts demand considerably for gasoline (decreasing pressure on transportation and refining of oil).

  6. Harry Harris

    Another supplemental approach I’ve advocated for years involves the highway department establishing or expanding an in-house road construction and repair capability using largely prison labor. The shoddy construction and resurfacing I’ve witnessed over the last 15-20 years is appalling. The bid-rigging we all know goes on has elevated construction and repair costs way beyond inflation levels. Although it’s difficult to force prison labor, the incentives now in place involving sentence reduction and payments to family are pretty effective in getting prisoners to participate. A more vigorous highway repair program fueled by increased funding would likely drive up bid prices without the shaving of the demand a state-run program would provide. The standard screeds about the private sector being more efficient simply aren’t always true. Go and watch a highway construction project in progress – mostly cost-plus bidding with enough padded payrolls and standing around to make you wonder. Look at the results 1-3 years after the job is done – nobody held accountable, and looking as though the contractor was ensuring ongoing business.

    1. Doug Ross

      To summarize: let’s have criminals repair our roads because they are more trustworthy than the crooks in government.

        1. Doug Ross

          Your excuse for poor stewardship by the governmet is apparently based on the idea that they have no ability to control the private sector. If we had people in government who were ethical and accountable, they would be able to hold the private sector to higher standards.

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