September 1, 2015

Senate Democrats want SC budget surplus to go towards roads

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington

Democrats in the South Carolina Senate want an $87 million budget surplus to be directed towards infrastructure.

State legislators had already planned on having higher-than-expected tax revenues this past fiscal year that ended June 30. In the final budget signed by Gov. Nikki Haley last month, lawmakers set aside roughly half of the projected $400 million in surplus money (totaling $216 million) to go towards county transportation funds. The Board of Economic Advisors revealed last week that the state had received the additional $87 million on top of that.

State Senator Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said the current surplus of $87 million would not be much, but would provide some benefit. “It’s a $1.4 billion annual problem and so this will only be a drop in the bucket, but at least it helps,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

He said the roads in South Carolina are a major concern. “Rebuilding roads, repaving roads is the number one issue in this state. It’s what people want addressed. It affects every aspect of our life from our jobs to our transportation system.” Setzler is among the Senate Democrats who favor a proposal that increases the state’s gas tax and would raise various vehicle and license fees to raise additional money for roads.

Governor Nikki Haley outlined a proposal during her State of the State address that would gradually raise the gas tax by 10 cents up to 26 cents per gallon by 2019. But that would be offset by a 2 percent decrease in South Carolina’s income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. House members passed their own bill in April that would raise more than $300 million for roads, offer an incentive for counties to take over some roads from the state and included some income tax relief.

But both plans remain stuck in the Senate. Republicans effectively allowed a filibuster among more conservative members to stall out debate on the Senate until the regular session ended in June. Those conservatives say they will not support a gas tax increase without structural reforms at the state Department of Transportation.

Setzler said investing in infrastructure will make South Carolina more attractive to families and businesses looking for a place to call home. “Everything that we do is impacted by the roads we travel on. Our economic development is tremendously impacted by that.” Setzler said.





Chinese appliance manufacturer announces 410 new jobs at Camden plant

A Chinese appliance manufacturer is hoping to grow its share in the U.S. market by significantly expanding its Camden refrigerator plant, creating more than 400 jobs in the next five years.

Haier America (pronounced “Hire”) hopes its $72 million investment will create 410 jobs in the Kershaw County facility over the next five years. Haier plans to roughly double its current plant from 365,000 square feet to 575,000. The company hopes to finish construction by summer 2018.

“This particular expansion is about refrigerator products,” President and CEO Adrian Micu told reporters after a ceremony at the existing plant. “So we’re going to expand our lines quite significantly beyond the products that we produce today.”

The company said the expansion will eventually allow it to manufacture a half-million fridges each year. Haier bills itself as the world’s biggest appliance maker in terms of units sold, but still lags in the U.S. market behind the better known Whirlpool and GE brands.

Governor Nikki Haley also spoke at Thursday’s announcement. She touted the role of global industry in helping South Carolina’s post-recession manufacturing growth. “With more than 100,000 South Carolinian’s employed by international companies, it’s clear that the reputation we’ve earned for our workforce and business-friendly environment has made its way around the world,” she said.

Haier first opened its Camden plant in 2000. It currently has 125 employees at the site.

Tourism leaders pursuing NCAA events now that Confederate flag is gone

The Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, which state tourism leaders have highlighted as a future venue for college basketball tournaments (Image: USC)

The Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, which state tourism leaders tout as a possible future venue for college basketball tournaments (Image: USC)

Now that the nation’s largest college sports organization has dropped its postseason boycott of South Carolina, state tourism officials are hoping they can land some NCAA events in the future.

The National Collegiate Athletics Association last month announced it is ending its nearly 13-year boycott of South Carolina after state lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds.

The boycott had barred the state and its 25 NCAA college sports programs from hosting preset tournaments, although the schools were allowed to host postseason games based on seeding (for instance, colleges could still host college baseball regionals if they had the highest-seeded team). The NCAA had been the highest-profile group to honor the National Association of Colored People’s Confederate flag boycott.

Now that the flag is down, state tourism leaders are hoping to take advantage of the new opportunity as quickly as possible. The Associated Press reports a South Carolina delegation visited the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, IN this week to pitch potential facilities in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and elsewhere.

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Nuclear power helps South Carolina move from coal

South Carolina conservationists are urging state leaders to pursue a “no-regrets” energy strategy that they say would lower electricity bills and create thousands more jobs in the Palmetto State.

Coastal Conservation League energy director Hamilton Davis said consumers need to come first. “We need to put South Carolina ratepayers first by lowering electricity bills through efficiency and affordable renewable power,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

The federal Clean Power Plan announced by the Obama Administration on Monday requires South Carolina and other states to reduce carbon emissions from power generation plants by more than a third within 15 years. South Carolina has already reduced carbon emissions from its electricity sector by over 30% since 2005, and alternative energy groups say the state is poised to get deeper reductions by attaining efficiency levels already achieved elsewhere and boosting the use of renewables.

Davis said that under construction and existing nuclear power plants in the state will help reach the federal standards. “They will be allowed to count toward some of our compliance obligations.” The federal plan gives more credit to the plant under construction at VC Summer in Jenkinsville for meeting the standards.

Beyond energy efficiency, the conservation groups contend renewable power provides the second affordable building block for South Carolina’s energy future.



Report finds more needs to be done for South Carolina’s children

The overall well-being of children in South Carolina improved slightly, even while poverty continues to go up, according to a new report findings released Tuesday.

The Kids Count Data Book, a study conducted each year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked South Carolina 42nd overall for a child’s chance of succeeding. That’s up from 45th last year and is the best ranking South Carolina has achieved in the report’s 25-year history.

The foundation’s associate director for policy reform and advocacy Laura Speer told South Carolina Radio Network one are area of improvement in the state was the health of newborn infants. “Babies born at a low birth weight has gone down in the state, which is a good thing,” Speer said.

Another area of improvement in South Carolina is the number of uninsured children dropped. “On a real bright note is the percent of children without health insurance, it has dropped from 13 percent in 2008 down to 13 percent in 2013. Which is a pretty significant improvement,” Speer said.

States received separate rankings in economics, education, health, and family and community.

On economic issues, South Carolina  declined or remained the same. More than one in four children lived in poverty, according to the report. That’s  nearly 300,000 children. By percentage, childhood poverty rates went up from 22 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2013.

Even more children live in homes without job security. The parents of 35 percent of children, more than 350,000 in all, lack a permanent job, meaning no parent has full-time, secure employment. That was an increase from 30 percent in 2008.

South Carolina posted mixed results on family and community measures.

More than 40 percent of children live in single parent homes, up 3 percentage points from 2008. The state’s biggest improvement came in teen births. The number of girls 15-19 years-old giving birth, per 1,000, declined to 32, a 19-point drop from 2008.

Health is the only category where South Carolina showed across the board improvement, ranking 36th nationwide.