July 23, 2014

Sheheen’s road funding proposal rejects gas tax


State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw

Democratic candidate for governor Vincent Sheheen said Tuesday that he does not think South Carolina should increase its gas tax to pay for badly-needed road repairs. Instead he is pushing a plan that would borrow up to $1 billion and redirect millions more from elsewhere in the state budget.

Sheheen released his plan to improve South Carolina roads on Tuesday, basing it partly off recommendations he previously made in his book “The Right Way.” The proposal calls for the state to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to pay for immediate work. It also calls on the legislature to dedicate five percent of the general fund budget on top of the approximately $500 million it collects in gas tax revenue each year. Sheheen said he also wants state officials to consider other means to expand funding, including possible tolls to repair and widen Interstate 95, or a new tax on out-of-state trucks that travel South Carolina highways.

But he rejected any increase to South Carolina’s lowest-in-the-nation 17-cent fuel tax. “The gas tax is a declining source of revenue,” he told reporters, adding that vehicles are becoming more fuel-efficient. “It’s why we’re in the mess we’re in now, because we solely rely on it. If all we do is rely on the gas tax, we’ll be right back having this discussion five years from now (or) ten years from now.”

Sheheen is challenging Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has previously said she will propose a plan to increase road funding when state legislators return in January.

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Spartanburg voters to decide on Sunday alcohol sales in November

Spartanburg County voters will decide in November if alcohol sales should be allowed on Sunday after the county council passed a referendum on Monday.

Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt (Image: Spartanburg County)

Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt
(Image: Spartanburg County)

The council approved the referendum with a 5-2 vote at its meeting. One of the supporters of the referendum was Councilman David Britt, who said it was important to put this issue up for public vote.

“The people of Spartanburg should have the decision-making power whether they want to have Sunday alcohol sales or not,” Britt told South Carolina Radio Network. “My choice was put it in the hands of the voters and let them decide and tell us what they want.”

According to Britt all registered county voters will be able to voice their opinion yes or no on the matter. Initially, the change would only impact unincorporated areas. Two municipalities in the county (including the city of Spartanburg) already allow Sunday sales, but all 14 of the county’s municipalities would have to decide to either opt-in or opt-out if voters approve the change.

Some opponents say towns should be able to legalize or bar the sales on their own.

“I don’t think we’ve got the right to tell the municipalities what they can or can’t do,” Councilman O’Neal Mintz said, according to the Spartanburg Herald Journal. “I haven’t had anybody in Chesnee tell me they want Sunday alcohol sales.”

Britt noted his main agenda was getting the referendum on the ballot for unincorporated areas.

“We have 14 municipalities in Spartanburg County, and 2 already have Sunday alcohol sales,” Britt said. “Based on what I have been told, that will really be up to the municipalities whether they opt in or out. That’s not my focus, my focus is the unincorporated areas of the county.”

The referendum will only allow Sunday sales in restaurants, not stores.

Patrick Ingraham filed this report

Longtime Fairfield County sheriff resigns

Fairfield County Sheriff Herman Young (Image:  Fairfield County)

Fairfield County Sheriff Herman Young (Image: Fairfield County)

Fairfield County’s sheriff has announced that he will step down from his position after more than two decades of serving the county.

According to The State Newspaper, Sheriff Herman Young said he will tenure his resignation effective Tuesday due to health concerns.

“This has not been an easy decision to make.  On one hand, I have a strong passion to continue serving this great community that has supported me for so many years.  On the other hand, I must think of my health and what really matters in life- my family,” Young said in a statement.

Young, elected in 1992, is the first African-American to serve as Fairfield County’s sheriff.

County officials made a statement listing some of Young’s achievements and programs started during his time as sheriff.

“Young implemented the Summer Kids Camp; the Home Alone Program which has been nationally recognized; selected as Sheriff of the Year by his colleagues; nationally recognized for solving a twenty year old murder; and also was responsible for the largest drug arrest in the history of Fairfield County. Sheriff Young has also served as President of the S.C. Sheriff’s Association,” the statement said.

Governor Nikki Haley also released a statement thanking Young for his service to the county and the state.

“We are proud to celebrate his wonderful years of service,” said Haley in the release. “He is moving on from this post the same way he led the community of Fairfield County, with strength and grace. Michael and I, along with everyone in South Carolina, owe him a debt of gratitude.”

The Sheriff’s Office said Chief Deputy Keith Lewis will act as interim sheriff until voters chose a permanent replacement in an October special election.

Patrick Ingraham contributed to this report

Report: SC trails in well-being of children

childrenSouth Carolina remains 45th in the nation in child well-being, according to the annual Children’s Trust “Kids Count” report.

The report also shows that poverty among South Carolina’s children has gotten worse, rising from 23 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2012. Melissa Strompolis of Kid’s Count South Carolina said educational achievement continues to lag behind as 72 percent of the state’s 4th-graders are not proficient in reading and 69 percent of 8th-graders are not proficient in math.

She said that does not bode well for the future. “Those are very concerning because with all the new and the economic boost that it seems that South Carolina is seeing, we want our children to be able to fill those jobs and contribute to South Carolina’s economy,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “But they will need the education to be able to do that.”

Kids Count is a major initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nationally, the report shows that 23 percent, or 16.4 million U.S. children, are living in poverty. That rate is up from about 19 percent in 2005.

The report reveals that 36 percent of the state’s children lived in homes where their parents lacked secure employment, an increase from 30 percent in 2008. Strompolis says living at or near poverty causes a numbers of stressors on the family and that can lead to child abuse and neglect. Strompolis said South Carolina did show some improvement in the area of health and well-being.

“We’ve had a reduction in the rates of child and teen deaths,” she said. “We’ve also seen a reduction in the number of teens giving birth, which has also been very positive for South Carolina.”

But despite the progress, Strompolis said South Carolina continues to lag near the bottom in the well-being of its children because other states are making just as much or more improvement. Strompolis says Kids Count is sharing information with counties as a call to action so that steps can be taken, at the grassroots level, to improve various environments so children can thrive and achieve.

“What Children’s Trust is working to do is to take all of this information and put it out at the county level,” she said. “So that local communities and stakeholders can take this information back to their respective counties, which will include their county data, and work to make improvements because we may see some regional variation from one county to the next.”

Former Westminster police chief sentenced to two years for embezzlement

Bannister's mug shot after his March 2013 arrest (Image: Oconee County Sheriff's Office)

Bannister’s mug shot after his March 2013 arrest (Image: Oconee County Sheriff’s Office)

A former police chief in Westminster has been sentenced to two years in prison for embezzling thousands of dollars that prosecutors say was supposed to be used to buy protective vests for officers.

46-year-old Johnny Scott Bannister pleaded guilty Monday to embezzlement and misconduct in office, according to the Tenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. A circuit judge ordered the former chief to pay nearly $114,000 in restitution. He had been police chief in Westminster for 11 years until his resignation in July 2012. Bannister was arrested in March 2013 by the State Law Enforcement Division, seven months after the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office said it noted discrepancies in the town’s funds. Incoming sheriff Mike Crenshaw had been the town’s acting police chief after Bannister’s resignation.

Bannister was accused of stealing more than $100,000 in town funds between January 2009 and July 2012. He was also accused of forging a check in someone else’s name for $1,400.

The former chief apologized in court Monday. His defense attorney Druanne White said her client could not explain his actions.

Prosecutors said the sentence was appropriate. “Scott Bannister betrayed the public trust. His actions were not only criminal but a direct contradiction to the responsibility he had to keep the citizens and taxpayers of Westminster safe from crime,” Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams said in a statement. “I hope that (Monday’s) sentence, which is consistent with that of similar cases in past, will allow the people of Westminster to begin repairing their trust in the police department and know that my office will prosecute anyone who violates the law regardless of their position.”