Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

(Charleston) Post and Courier. July 5, 2021.

Editorial: South Carolina needs a Juneteenth holiday, but not a 14th holiday

Some calendars call today Independence Day observed. Of course, no one observes Independence Day today in the sense of shooting off fireworks and getting together for backyard cookouts and barbecues and attending parades. We did all that yesterday, on the actual day of the declaration of our nation’s independence from England, July 4. The birth of our nation is too important to be moved to the nearest weekday.

The only way the holiday is observed today is by closing government offices and paying people to not go to work.

That bizarre dichotomy explains the political difficulty we have incorporating new holidays into our calendars: We don’t consider a holiday to be important — or even real — unless we shut down the government and pay government employees to not work. (Chapter 3 of Title 53 of the S.C. Code of Laws, for instance, has a long list of legislatively declared “special days” that few people are even aware of precisely because they are not paid-day-off holidays, from Frances Willard Day to Atomic Veterans Day.) Some businesses also give employees the day off with pay on some holidays, but whether they do or not doesn’t matter much in terms of whether we consider the government holiday real.

Problem is, paying government employees not to work costs taxpayers money — in many cases to “celebrate” holidays that most taxpayers don’t get paid not to work. The federal government already had 10 official holidays, not counting the day after Christmas that most federal employees get off as well, before the Congress suddenly made Juneteenth a federal holiday last month.

South Carolina has 13 without the addition of Juneteenth: New Year’s, Martin Luther King Day, George Washington’s birthday/President’s Day, Confederate Memorial Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after Christmas.

We don’t mean to imply that the Legislature shouldn’t make Juneteenth a legal state holiday. To the contrary, we find ourselves asking why we and so many others haven’t been demanding an official day to celebrate the end of slavery for years.

It was only by ending the legal enslavement of human beings that our nation was able to truly begin to uphold the aspirational values set forth in the declaration of our independence that all of us actually observed yesterday: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We could quibble over what the best date is to celebrate the end of the institution of slavery, but with the overwhelming embrace of Juneteenth among African Americans and now the adoption by the Congress, there’s no good reason to do that. And there’s no reason it should be controversial. The people who like to pretend the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery ought to be especially happy to celebrate Juneteenth, if only because it helps them demonstrate that their love for the Confederacy is in no way related to a love for the enslavement of African Americans.

The question our Legislature needs to debate isn’t whether to designate Juneteenth as a legal state holiday. It’s what to remove from the state’s already too-long holiday list.

Growing the list might be worth considering if most or even many of the people who pay for state holidays also got paid to not work 14 days a year — nearly three weeks. But they don’t. Many hospitality and retail businesses never close; some close only on Christmas and Thanksgiving. In other sectors, there might be six or even occasionally 10. With rare exceptions, non-government workers who want to take off the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas are welcome to do so — as one of their vacation days, assuming enough other employees aren’t also taking the day off.

Fortunately, having those 13 paid state holidays means there are several good options to eliminate, starting (but not concluding) with the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.

Those are all great days to take vacation time, but they are neither religious nor patriotic observances, and they have nothing to do with the values that made this nation worthy of celebration.

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(Columbia) The State. July 6, 2021.

Editorial: Read the room: Now is not the time for these huge government salary increases

Here’s just one very basic rule government officials should probably follow:

Read the room.

If your state has, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a median household income of $53,199 and close to 14 percent of its population living in poverty, maybe you don’t arbitrarily increase the salaries of your government employees by as much as 48 percent in a single year.

That’s what South Carolina’s Agency Head Salary Commission just did.

The commission, which includes four House members, four senators, and three people appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster, saw fit to increase the salaries for the directors of the Office of Regulatory Staff, Department of Corrections, Department of Transportation, Department of Administration and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority.

The raises, which took effect immediately, saw the salaries for the various positions increase from 18.6 percent to as much as 48 percent.

Consider your own employment history.

Have you ever received a 48 percent raise?

Here are the latest raises:

Office of Regulatory Staff Executive Director Nanette Edwards: $178,619 to $265,000, a 48% raise.

Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall: $251,232 to $298,000, an 18.6% raise.

SC Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling: $199,857 to $250,000, a 25% raise.

Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams: $224,042 to $284,679, a 27% raise

State Fiscal Accountability Authority Executive Director Grant Gillespie: $200,562 to $245,000, a 22% raise.

Raises this big raise a question about whether these officials are being paid too much. For example, North Carolina’s Secretary of Transportation makes $221,000, some $77,000 less than the new salary for South Carolina’s equivalent.

That’s a significant difference.

House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, and State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, said the increases were necessary for the state government to hire and retain talented people and compete with the private sector.

Alexander told a reporter, “I think that business and industry are already doing what we’re seeking to do here. I can assure you many opportunities, whether it’s in industry or other opportunities and jobs, that what they’re being paid now is certainly different than it was even a year ago because of the opportunities that are out there.”

Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the job market. That was bound to happen when so many employees learned they were essential for American society to function, yet not essential enough to be paid a living wage.

Just FYI: South Carolina has no state minimum wage and so employers are only bound by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The only member of the Agency Head Salary Commission to vote no on the increases was Senate President Harvey Peeler.

Peeler suggested the increases could perhaps be spread out over three years.

“I feel like it’s too much too fast (for) these increases,” Peeler told our reporter, explaining that he believes the state has great employees, but “it’s just the numbers. It’s hard for me to justify this time.”

We agree with Senator Peeler.

It’s hard to justify such exorbitant increases. These are government jobs, publicly-funded jobs. The men and women earning that median salary of $53,199 are paying these salaries.

Yes, talented people deserve to be compensated appropriately, but our elected officials have a responsibility to their constituents to operate with the taxpayers in mind.

Want to see what state employees are making? Check out The State’s salary database here.

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The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. July 6, 2021.

Editorial: Attracting retirees is important

South Carolina, like other states in the South, is growing in population. Early U.S. Census data from 2020 puts the growth at 10.7% over the past 10 years, with the state adding nearly a half million people.

Much of the growth is occurring in areas attractive to retirees, the coast and Upstate locations, but Orangeburg and the entire state stand to benefit. A new study offers some evidence.

South Carolina has been ranked by the SeniorLiving.org study https://smartasset.com/retirement/retirement-calculator#southcarolina as the No. 10 best state for older adults, with factors being people’s desire for their money to go far, good weather, excellent health care and a social life.

The rank is derived from compiling numbers in 15 categories across taxes and finances, health and medicine, and lifestyle and culture using data from the Census Bureau, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here are several reasons South Carolina is the No. 10 best state for older adults:

• No. 7 lowest average monthly marketplace premium after tax credit at $116.

• No. 8 warmest state with an average temperature of 65 degrees.

• No. 4 best culture ranking.

It’s not the first study that gives the Palmetto State – and Orangeburg -- high marks for the older population.

SmartAsset, a New York financial technology company, has for the seventh year released its study, Best Places to Retire in the U.S. https://smartasset.com/retirement/retirement-calculator#southcarolina

SmartAsset gathers data on three separate regional factors that affect the quality of life for retirees, including tax-friendliness, medical care and social opportunities.

First, it looked at state and local tax rates, considering two types of taxes: income and sales. It calculated effective rates based on a retiree earning $35,000 annually (from retirement savings, Social Security and part-time employment). Income taxes paid were subtracted from the gross income to determine disposable income. Sales taxes paid were calculated based on the disposable income being spent on taxable goods.

SmartAsset determined the number of doctors’ offices, recreation centers and retirement centers per thousand residents in each location. Finally, it measured the number of seniors in each city as a percentage of the total population.

It’s important to note that Orangeburg and surroundings are not left out when people are considering retirement destinations.

In the SmartAsset study, Orangeburg ranked No. 8 in 2021, down from No. 6 a year ago, behind Murrells Inlet, Seneca, Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach, Camden, Greenville and Georgetown, and ahead of Anderson and Laurens.

Specifics of the Orangeburg ranking:

• Taxes -- 15%

• Doctors’ offices per 1,000 people -- 3.7

• Recreation centers per 1,000 people -- .09

• Retirement centers per 1,000 people -- .04

• Percent of seniors – 14.5%

• Best Place to Retire Index -- 32.17

Orangeburg is taking steps to make itself a retirement destination.

In 2019, the county received the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities certification, showing it is committed to making the county more age-friendly. The county was the first in South Carolina to receive the designation.

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities is the United States affiliate of the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program, an international effort launched in 2006 to help cities prepare for rapid population aging and urbanization.

The certification targets eight primary livability domains under criteria established by AARP and WHO that influence health and quality of life. Some of these measures include having such things as walkable streets, housing and transportation options, access to key services and opportunities for residents to participate in community activities.

As part of the certification designation, the county is expected to participate in a multistep process of improvement that takes about five years and includes enrollment; conducting surveys and listening sessions; creating action plans and implementation.

While the county’s focus on economic development via business and industry remains vital, further building the county as a retirement destination must be a priority.

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