Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Post and Courier. June 18, 2024.

Editorial: We can’t debate value of SC pork projects, because they’re still too obscured

If you want to find out how the S.C. House plans to spend $275 million on local projects undertaken by public and private organizations, you’re in luck. Sort of. There’s a listing of the 328 individual House earmarks in next year’s state budget bill, along with the names of the representatives who requested them, on the legislative website.

If you know who to ask, you can get a paper copy of the 216 Senate earmarks (total cost $161 million), along with the names of the senators who requested each one. That works out fine if your practice is to hang out at the Statehouse; otherwise, not so much.

Even the Senate’s “Mother, may I” approach to providing public information to the public is a vast improvement over just five years ago, when even legislators didn’t know which pet projects were being funded — much less which legislators were being favored with that funding — until long after they had passed the budget, if then.

The openness has been a work in progress, prompted by persistent reporting efforts from The Post and Courier and Columbia’s State newspaper that provided legislators and the public with a look at how our tax money was being spent — and in too many cases misspent — and which legislators were bringing home the most bacon.

In response to external and internal pressure, both the House and Senate changed their rules to require the information that’s available now, and in some cases that’s about all most people would need to decide what they think of a particular project ($750,000 to the town of Williamston for its Mineral Springs and Brookdale parks, for example). In other cases, it’s far too sketchy ($300,000 for “Middle School Screenings” for something called the Johnathan Foundation) to provide a clue about the organization that’s getting the money, much less what the money is supposed to accomplish.

That we consider the current state of affairs an improvement underscores how unacceptable the old double-super-secret process was. The information the Legislature provides today is still insufficient. And the Senate’s refusal to post its bare-bones information online is simply unacceptable.

If it were up to the Legislature, we’d never have a clue how many of those expenditures are the worthwhile community investments lawmakers want us to believe they are, and how many are the sort of pork-barrel giveaways that give budget earmarks a bad name: taxpayer subsidies for unnecessary and even ill-conceived projects that benefit political cronies, friends and family of legislators.

Fortunately, most of the would-be recipients have complied with Gov. Henry McMaster’s request for information about who they are and what they want to do with the money — because to do otherwise is to risk a veto that the Legislature might sustain. And Mr. McMaster’s office releases that information under the Freedom of Information Act and eventually posts it online.

But the information the recipients provide is inconsistent, ranging from one-paragraph hand-written narratives to elaborate PowerPoint presentations. More significantly, it’s not available to the public until long after legislators have an opportunity to debate those projects, which means there is no debate, and little if any vetting.

The problem here isn’t with Mr. McMaster; providing the information is not something the governor’s office should have to do to begin with.

The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee require the information themselves before deciding which projects to include in the budget; the House’s request form even notes at the top that “THIS DOCUMENT WILL BE MADE PUBLIC.” But they don’t post the requests on their websites, as they do information about other legislative proposals. And they certainly don’t provide the requests that budget writers reject.

That’s no more acceptable than the Senate’s refusal to post anything online about the earmarks. And it needs to change. Mr. McMaster’s office has already made 3,393 pages of documentation available to The Post and Courier’s Nick Reynolds, who is reviewing it; the House and Senate should post the material online before the bodies adopt the final version of the budget. That’s unlikely to change how anyone votes — it should have been posted before each body debated the budget — but it would send an important message about how much legislative leaders value the public’s right to know how our money is being spent. And it would set a precedent, which should be improved upon next year.

We had hoped to be beyond this point by now. We had hoped that detailed earmark information would be easily available to legislators and the public this year, and that it would have made legislators realize they need to answer some basic questions about earmarks: Should state taxpayers be forced to fund community festivals that entertain local residents but probably don’t bring a single tourist to our state? What about community parks and downtown revitalization efforts? Or conferences, or outreach programs, or local recreation programs, or nonprofit programs? Or programs produced by what sound like nonprofits that are really just individuals who might or might not have a good idea? Should we fund churches? Should taxpayers statewide help out those police departments that have the most persuasive legislator instead of all police departments according to need?

Lawmakers still need to confront those questions. They also need to provide themselves and the public with the more complete information about individual projects that some of them already have, and they need to do it much earlier in the budget debate.


Times and Democrat. June 18, 2024.

Editorial: Juneteenth has significance as formal holiday

News of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not reach slaves in Texas for 2-1/2 years when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger marched into Galveston on June 19, 1865, to announce the end of slavery and the Civil War to the last slaves.

Also known as “Black Independence Day,” the moment has been enshrined as Juneteenth, one of the most important dates in civil rights history.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

Juneteenth is today also called Emancipation Day. People across the U.S. mark the moment with food and festivities in a similar manner to the Fourth of July.

Juneteenth has evolved and grown in the decades since it was first marked with local festivities and commemorations.

After renewed attention to Juneteenth amid the 2020 racial turmoil, in June 2021 both houses of the U.S. Congress passed the Juneteenth Independence Day Act establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, and President Joe Biden signed the legislation.

The holiday is being observed this year on Wednesday, June 19.

Federal holidays such as Juneteenth usually apply to government workers, including those working for the U.S. Postal Service, law enforcement, public health and clerical workers at various government agencies can take that specific day off or in lieu.

In South Carolina, efforts to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday are stalled.

In 2022, proposed legislation would have added the Juneteenth celebration on June 19 as a new state holiday. But instead of adding a 14th holiday, the bill created a floating holiday that workers could take on Confederate Memorial Day on May 10, for Juneteenth or any other day they choose.

The legislation enjoyed wholesale support in the Senate but was note voted on in final form in the S.C. House.

In the 2023-24 legislative session, Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, introduced a bill that would install Juneteenth as a state holiday. The bill was sent to the Senate Family and Veterans Services Committee and was not taken up by the full body.

In addition to South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma are Southern states where Juneteenth is not recognized as an official state holiday.

Just as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, established in 1983, is important in a country in which the civil rights movement is a key part of history, Juneteenth as a day of celebration is an important observance in South Carolina and around the United States. It represents the start of a new age.

South Carolina should officially recognize Juneteenth’s significance with a formal holiday.