Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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April 13

The Index-Journal on extending the effort behind the South Carolina Highway Patrol's weeklong littering crackdown:

One could certainly argue that the South Carolina Highway Patrol should have better things to do with its time than to set aside a special week targeting litterers along the state’s highways.

What one cannot argue, however, is that South Carolina, despite all its natural beauty extending from the mountains to the coastline, is an exceptionally dirty state. Any effort to heighten awareness and, as important, hit offenders in the pocketbook is thus warranted and welcome.

The state Department of Public Safety this week launched a statewide crackdown on littering. The effort is in partnership with PalmettoPride and is conducted during Great South Carolina Cleanup Week.

Let’s be honest, let’s be blunt here. A week will not do, not when one can drive a short distance and readily see the volume of litter that dots our roadways.

“We want to send a clear enforcement message that litter not only trashes our beautiful state, it’s also illegal,” state Highway Patrol Col. Christopher Williamson said in a news release earlier this week. “The Highway Patrol will be particularly vigilant for littering violations, especially around interstates, entrance and exit ramps and trash collection points where people throw trash from their vehicles or let it blow out of their vehicles.”

Focus will be placed on laws regarding dumping litter on private or public property; litter created when materials loaded on vehicles blows or falls out; cleaning the highways of those substances; and ensuring loads being transported on the state’s roadways are securely and properly covered to avoid spillage.

“South Carolina is open for business. We know that clean roads and clean communities directly relate to economic development and overall quality of life,” Lt. Gov. Pam Evette said through the press release.

While that certainly strikes any decent thinking person as logical, the sad fact is that the volume of trash along our roadways speaks volumes of the people creating it. They obviously do not grasp the impact litter has on our state’s economic development or its quality of life. Nor do they apparently care.

In its study of the trashing of South Carolina, PalmettoPride has actually determined that more than 80% of littering is intentional. That bears repeating: More than 80% of the trash we see strewn about our medians, our ditches, the woods along our roads and interstates does not get there accidentally. Instead, it is a result of people who have absolutely no sense of decency, no sense of care or concern for others or the state’s environment. Moreover, PalmettoPride estimates that 21% of roadway litter comes from unsecured loads.

We can only hope that plenty of fines are dealt this week and that just as many litterers will have a Road to Damascus awakening.

But it will take more than a week and more than the assistance doled out by the state’s Highway Patrol to rein in South Carolina’s littering problem. Like many things, it will take the community as a whole.

Have a cellphone? Good. Plug in this number: 1-877-7LITTER (1-877-754-8837). If you witness someone littering or debris coming off an improperly covered and secured truck, call that number right away to report it. You’ll be asked to provide the time, location and license plate number of the violator.

Don’t think your call will do much? Think again.

Here’s how the littering penalties play out, according to the state Department of Public Safety:

A littering conviction carries a maximum fine of $100 plus court assessments or 30 days in jail for up to 15 pounds of litter, along with eight hours of litter gathering or another form of community service. Littering between 15 and 500 pounds carries a fine of up to $500, 30 days in jail and 16 hours of community service; the community service increases to 24 hours for a second conviction and 32 hours for a third conviction. More than 500 pounds of litter carries a maximum fine of $1,000, up to a year in jail and community service.

It would be nice if people simply did the right thing and put trash where it belongs, but sometimes that’s expecting too much of some people. But if enough people do their part and report littering, perhaps the hit to the bank accounts of offenders will have an impact, along with the hours of community service they have to perform.

They might not litter for the right reasons, but they might not litter ever again. And that’s good for our beautiful state.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com

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April 13

The Times and Democrat on South Carolinians tax-filing habits:

South Carolinians may not be anxious to pay taxes, but they are less inclined to delay filing federal income tax returns than people in most other states.

IPX 1031 recently surveyed 1,000 Americans to learn more about their tax-filing habits. They also analyzed Google search data from all 50 states and the 30 largest American cities during last year’s tax season to determine which cities and states have the biggest tax filing procrastinators.

South Carolina ranked 28th, well below the states with the top procrastinators: Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, Nevada, California. Yet we were not nearly as timely as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Hard to believe those “Rust Belt” taxpayers are the most timely but it is what it is, at least according to this survey.

More interesting are other findings:

— 33% of American’s wait until the last minute to file their taxes.

— Top reasons why Americans procrastinate on their taxes: 1. Too time consuming (40%) 2. Too complicated (22%) 3. Want to make sure it’s correct (22%) 4. Not getting a refund/no rush (10%) 5. Worried I’ll owe money (6%).

The full report can be found at https://www.ipx1031.com/americas-biggest-tax-procrastinators-2021/

And now that the Internal Revenue Service, reportedly swamped with the coronavirus stimulus program, has extended the income tax filing deadline from the traditional April 15 by a month to May 17, people get even more time to delay. Interestingly, the IPX 1031 survey indicated that a third of Americans didn’t know that tax day had been extended.

Here’s a safe bet: If you are expecting a refund (the average is estimated at $2,059, smaller than last year at $2,707), you likely are not delaying. If you’re paying, maybe so.

In South Carolina, more than 1 million state returns had been filed electronically at the halfway point for the tax season. And the good news for the S.C. Department of Revenue is that people are filing electronically -- 98.2%, in fact.

So we push ahead. In unusual times of federal checks coming to people amid a pandemic and talk in Washington of tax increases, the payments for the pandemic year of 2020 are coming due.

Whether you wait until the last minute or not, here are tips for filing your return:

— File online for faster and more accurate processing.

— If you’re expecting a refund, choose direct deposit. Your refund will be automatically deposited into your bank account. It’s the fastest, easiest, most secure way to receive your refund.

— Make sure you have your W-2s, 1099s, other withholding information and important documents before you file. Year-end pay stubs may not match what your employer reports.

— Before submitting your tax return, make sure your current mailing address is included, even if you choose direct deposit for your refund.

For the record, this is the second year the tax-filing deadline has been extended. In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, the IRS extended the April 15 tax deadline to July 15. Not as much of extension this year but an extension nonetheless.

You have until May 17.

Online: https://thetandd.com

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April 9

The Post and Courier on a bill that would raise some South Carolina elected officials' pay even as teachers and other state workers have not received increases:

South Carolina has a teacher shortage that forced schools to rely on substitutes and international teachers even before COVID-19 sent them scrambling for extra teachers for now-smaller classrooms. We can’t attract enough correctional officers to keep our prisons fully staffed, or enough social workers to keep an eye on the children and vulnerable adults we know are at risk. And the list goes on, in numerous unglamorous but essential jobs, because, as the market demonstrates with those shortages, we don’t pay enough or offer attractive enough work environments to persuade qualified people to take the jobs.

Yet while legislators make little adjustments that are mildly helpful but insufficient to address these actual problems, their main interest remains making the easiest-to-fill jobs even more attractive.

On April 7, the House rushed through a bill to raise the pay for the now-appointed adjutant general as well as the attorney general, education superintendent, treasurer, secretary of state and other statewide elected officials whose jobs are established in the state constitution. (The sponsors, Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith and Judiciary Chairman Chris Murphy, wanted to raise the salary for the governor and lieutenant governor as well, but Gov. Henry McMaster asked them not to.)

We don’t know yet how much pay will go up, but the move comes two years after the Legislature increased salaries for judges, solicitors and public defenders by more than a third, raising the average pay from $140,000 to $190,000.

Apparently legislators are embarrassed that the salary for our comptroller general is the lowest in the nation, our education superintendent is the third-lowest and the attorney general is fourth lowest. What ought to embarrass them is the pay for those crucial positions we can’t fill.

It’s true that constitutional officers’ pay hasn’t been increased since 1994. But it’s also true that all but one of the constitutional officers (like every judge and solicitor) ran for office knowing what the pay was and knowing it was unlikely to increase.

And that part about “ran for office” is key: Candidates had to pay a filing fee and grovel for campaign donations and in other ways subject themselves to the rigors of a political campaign — sometimes fending off several challengers who also wanted the job — in order to be allowed to take the jobs that our legislators believe are insufficiently compensated. Obviously the officeholders, and the candidates they defeated, don’t consider the salary insufficient.

Even given all that, we don’t object to adjusting constitutional officers’ salaries more than once every 27 years. It would make sense to give them the same across-the-board pay raises (typically 2% or so) that the Legislature gives most state employees from time to time.

What does not make sense is the scheme envisioned by H.3786: to have a special panel determine an appropriate raise every four years “based on each state constitutional officer’s job duties and responsibilities as well as the pay of other state constitutional officers in other states.”

Current state law gives the same $92,000 salary to the secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, comptroller general, superintendent of education, agriculture commissioner and adjutant general — with a higher salary to the governor and lower to the part-time lieutenant governor. H.3786 would set a separate salary for each officer.

Now, it certainly makes sense to pay more to such vital officials as the education superintendent and attorney general than the secretary of state and agriculture commissioner. But any individualized salaries should be based on job performance — which is not something an appointed commission should evaluate for elected officials. (We wonder how legislators would like the commission to set individualized salaries for them, based on how well it believes they do their jobs.)

More significantly, the idea that what we pay our statewide elected officials should be in any way related to what other states pay is just as ridiculous as the idea that our judges’ salaries should be related to the pay for judges in other states.

The fact is that unlike teachers, prison guards, social workers and just about every other state employee, people who want to be governor or attorney general or treasurer can’t just pick up and move to Georgia or North Carolina to get a higher salary, because they don’t have the political network to get elected in those states. As with judges, it’s a buyer’s market for elected officials.

Unless our legislators want to make the argument that we’ve got a bunch of extra tax money we can’t find a good use for or that we can’t find any competent candidates to run for statewide elected offices, there is no way to justify raising these salaries by more than the modest cost-of-living increases other state employees sometimes receive.

Here’s how we’ll know it’s time to give larger pay raises to constitutional officers: when we have as much competition for open positions as teachers and prison guards as we have for these elected offices.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/