Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Index-Journal. April 1, 2022.

Editorial: On paving with good intentions

Nothing like a smooth ride, which these days is hard to come by along many of South Carolina’s roads and highways. The periodic upticks in the state’s gas tax were implemented, nearly three decades after the last increase, as a means of funding road, highway and bridge repairs.

So it goes that on the local front, at least, we’ve seen some headway on smoother roadways. You might have noticed a stretch of Cambridge Avenue has been resurfaced, paving the way for a smoother ride from roughly where it intersects with Seaboard Avenue to Calhoun Avenue.

OK, that’s worthy of a thumbs up, but we would like to see those road construction warning signs along Grace Street, from where that smooth Grace and Cambridge intersection now exists all the way down to, oh, let’s say at least to the Laurel Avenue intersection.

If you don’t know this stretch, consider yourself lucky. Frankly, we thought, hoped and even prayed that the good congregants of First Baptist Church would have enough sway to get that stretch fixed by now, but alas, it remains a road hellbent on putting vehicles out of alignment, shredding tire treads and, in some cases involving low riders, taking out oil pans with its dips. The first adventurers to hit the Oregon Trail had a smoother ride, we dare say.

Speaking of bridges in need of repair, we have to wonder if the short span that crosses Rocky Creek on Airport Road will ever be put back in service.

It was out for months during the height of the pandemic and we thought perhaps it was destined for a complete overhaul. It reopened and best we can tell was merely patched up in such a way as to make it seem like a second cousin to the bumps and holes of Grace Street. It’s out again, with no signs of any activity to patch or fix again. Guess the good news is that it was closed again before it collapsed with a car or truck crossing it.

If the promise of a thumbs up will hasten these repairs, we will gladly oblige. We’re sure there are other travelers and residents along these stretches who would agree.

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head, as the saying goes.

Here we are writing about roads and bridges in need of repair and we get this news in for release today:

“Gov. Henry McMaster has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency regarding all roads and bridges in South Carolina.

“The governor is taking full control of the state’s surplus dollars and allocating emergency road repair funds on a needs basis. McMaster has determined that Greenwood County is third on his priority list. He anticipates virtually all roads and bridges under state, county or city control will be repaired this year.”

OK, thumbs up to us for crafting an April Fool’s prank that’s potentially less funny than a Chris Rock joke. A real knee — not face — slapper.

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The Times and Democrat. April 7, 2022.

Editorial: S.C. commission scores victory for transparency

Chalk up a victory for transparency in government.

The South Carolina Ethics Commission has reversed a three-decades-old policy preventing anyone who files a complaint against a public official from talking about it unless the complaint is found valid.

The decision came after a whistleblower whose complaint was dismissed by the commission sued and said the secrecy violated free speech rights and unfairly silenced people who wanted to report wrongdoing.

Leaders in the South Carolina House and Senate then filed documents in the lawsuit saying they never intended for the state’s ethic laws to silence whistleblowers, The Post and Courier reported.

The State Ethics Commission said in an opinion that it determined after a closer review of the ethics law that the confidentiality requirements apply only to the commission, not to citizens who file complaints.

The commission has already revised its forms to delete a portion that warned anyone filing an ethics complaint that they could be prosecuted on a misdemeanor charge is they spoke publicly about their allegations before the agency investigated them.

The previous policy also prevented complainants from speaking about allegations if the commission rules against them, even on a technical issue.

“For decades, the Ethics Commission has intimidated citizens into not speaking about complaints that they filed,” said Chris Kenney, the attorney who filed the lawsuit. “This is a positive development in terms of free speech and the right to criticize public officials and public bodies and the work of the Ethics Commission.”

Kenney told The Post and Courier he sued on behalf of a client who accused a state lawmaker of breaking ethics laws by voting in favor of a special interest that paid the legislator $108,000 over three years through contracts with firms with ties to the lawmaker.

The State Ethics Commission rejected the complaint after discussing it behind closed doors, saying the lawmaker taking money from a subsidiary of the special interest didn’t affiliate him with the interest.

The client, who remained anonymous in the lawsuit because he did not want to break the law, wants to talk to legislators about tightening ethics laws so that conduct would be considered wrong, Kenney said.

Let’s have that talk. There have been enough problems with ethics -- and legal -- issues with lawmakers in recent times. Lawmakers are people we expect to obey the laws they create. Effective mechanisms to ensure that they do are essential.

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The Post and Courier. April 5, 2022.

Editorial: We need to understand SC’s workforce to improve it

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce was wise to establish a task force of state staffing experts and educators to study why the percentage of South Carolinians in the workforce has dropped over the past 15 years and remains significantly below the national average.

This much-needed step is essential to understanding the capacity of the state’s economy and how to improve it.

“We need to know the root causes of our low participation rate before we can truly make any improvements,” DEW Director Dan Ellzey correctly noted in his March 23 announcement. “This is why the Task Force is so critical at this time.”

Today, more than 100,000 jobs remain open in the state even as our official unemployment rate hovers near its record low of 2019. But participation in the workforce by South Carolinians of working age, at 57.2% in February, is far below its 1993 peak of 68.5%. It is also below the national average of 62.3%, which also is down from its high of 67.3% in early 2000.

If South Carolina’s labor force participation rate were at the current national level, the state would have more than 200,000 more people working or looking for jobs. That would mean a substantial boost for the state’s wealth and would help the many businesses currently struggling to find workers.

Figures compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show labor force participation falling steadily across the nation since its peak. But it has fallen faster and further in South Carolina, and it is important to understand why.

Part of the reason likely is the state’s aging population. Retirees, who are considered part of the work-eligible population in federal statistics, have been the fastest growing segment of the state’s population for the past decade, and their participation in the labor force is well below 50%.

In 2019, DEW identified falling participation rates among people ages 55-64 as an additional cause. There also are areas of rural poverty around the state where jobs essentially are unavailable. Other factors include people with disabilities and people without a high school diploma, two segments of the population that also have low labor force participation rates.

Even among people of prime working age, from 25 to 54, 1 in 5 is not a part of the labor force. This continues to vex employers and employment experts.

We know the cause is not that South Carolina is too generous with its unemployment insurance program or its broader anti-poverty programs, which are much less generous than some states with much higher workforce participation rates. But we seem not to have a clue what the cause actually is.

Understanding in detail why more people are not in the labor force is the first step to designing local and statewide programs and strategies that can bring in those who want to work but who aren’t, possibly because of obstacles such as age discrimination, education and skill development, physical health and local employment opportunities.

The South Carolina Labor Force Participation Task Force is expected to issue its report in the fall. Kudos to DEW for launching this necessary project.

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