South Carolina government news
This article is a list of transparency related news from South Carolina.
Senate Passes Roll Call Voting Bill 2011-05-09 09:36:40
For advocates of roll call voting by members of the General Assembly, it’s been a long time coming.
The S.C. Senate passed a stand-alone roll call voting bill on Thursday. The bill is almost identical to roll call voting legislation the House passed in January, all but ensuring that a law requiring legislators to vote on the record is imminent.
The bill would require roll call votes on each section of the annual state budget and any bill or joint resolution having the force and effect of law.
The House still must concur with an insignificant language change the Senate made to the bill, but all indications suggest that the House will do so in short order.
This week, the House passed its version of a 2011-12 budget and then adjourned for furlough. The chamber is scheduled to reconvene on March 29.
“Today is a key victory for our voters and I’m confident my House colleagues will quickly approve [the revised bill] when we return to Columbia,” Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland and chief sponsor of the legislation, said in an e-mail to The Nerve after the Senate passed it.
If the House approves the bill it will then go to Gov. Nikki Haley. The bill would become law and take effect upon her signing it.
Haley made roll call voting her signature issue in seeking the governorship in her third and final term as a state representative in the 2009-10 legislative session.
In a statement after the Senate passed the bill she said, “This is an exciting day for South Carolina. We have long said rules protect legislators; laws protect the people. Senate passage of this bill was a huge step forward to change the face of how we conduct business in our state in the eyes of the country.”
Haley’s reference to rules alludes to a point of contention the Senate focused on in debating the bill.
Some members of the chamber, led by Charleston Republican Sens. Chip Campsen and Glenn McConnell, the president pro tempore of the Senate, argued that a law mandating roll call voting would be unconstitutional because the S.C. Constitution – and only the constitution – gives each legislative chamber the authority to prescribe its own procedural rules.
“Not the [full] General Assembly, not the governor, not the courts – each body,” McConnell said Thursday in mounting one last effort to sway senators against the bill.
Members of the Campsen-McConnell camp say the constitution must first be amended to grant the Legislature authority to pass a roll call voting law, and that they support doing both – but in that order and encumbering a law to a constitutional amendment.
Ballentine also is sponsoring a constitutional amendment to that effect, H. 3285, which the House has passed and is pending in the Senate.
But, doing the heavy lifting to get a stand-alone bill through the Senate, Republican Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens prevailed in a big way. The bill passed the Senate by a three-fourths margin, 33-11, after members debated it for two full days and part of a third.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Martin told The Nerve afterward, “and I think we were very successful in keeping the bill within the parameters [in the House version] that we started out with.”
Said Ballentine, “I want to thank the Senate, particularly Larry Martin, who worked tirelessly to keep the bill in the format the people of South Carolina asked for and deserve.”
Said Haley, “By passing this bill, the House and Senate clarify that we believe the people, not elected officials, are in charge. I want to personally thank Sen. Harvey Peeler, Sen. Larry Martin, and the senators who supported this bill for their courage, fight and humility.”
Ballentine, who also singled out Peeler for thanking, described a long effort to get a roll call voting law.
“This process started almost three years ago when, on a voice vote, a cost-of-living adjustment for legislators was approved,” Ballentine said in his e-mail. “Immediately then-state Rep. Haley knew we had to change the process so that voters would know exactly how their elected officials voted on important issues.
“Over the past few years, our citizens have become more engaged in the political process and understand the importance their voice has in reforming state government. This is one of the many ways they can continue to impact our state going forward. Grassroots [supporters] deserve a huge thank you today, as well!”
Even if passage of the bill into law is a foregone conclusion, however, that is unlikely to put the roll call voting issue to rest.
Senators who object to a stand-alone law on constitutional grounds warned Thursday of, among other pitfalls, a potential lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of it.
Said McConnell, who is an attorney, “What we’re doing is illegal.”
Martin disagrees, countering that the Senate changed its roll call voting rules earlier this session to conform to the bill. “I just think that [constitutional] argument, it would be somewhat valid if we enacted a statute that was appreciably different from our rules.”
Like he ushered the bill through the Senate, Martin also sponsored the rules change to require roll call voting in the chamber much more often. “I became convinced that the public really wanted us to act,” he says.
But to settle the constitutional issue, Martin says he is optimistic that the Senate will take up the proposed amendment pending before the body, although probably not until next year because other pressing matters dominate the chamber’s agenda.
In the meantime, champions of a roll call voting law are savoring a victory evidently close at hand.
Chair Blasts SCRA in Resignation Letter 2011-02-16 13:08:47
S.C. Research Authority Chairman Bill Masters’ resignation letter to Gov. Nikki Haley, submitted earlier this month, contains an accompanying report that paints a damning picture of the agency charged with leading South Carolina’s knowledge-based economy.
According to the eight-page report sent to Haley and obtained by The Nerve, Masters states that "SCRA has evolved over the past five years from a scientific research organization into a political organization using its core competency of data and information manipulation to market itself and benefit top management and its allies."
SCRA is "run mostly for the benefit of its top management for monetary benefits and for exerting control and power;" is "exceptional at manipulating government contracts and data to pass audits;" and management "does not fully comply with the constitution of South Carolina in arms length handling of monies of affiliate SC Launch," Masters also states.
In addition, his report asserts that in 2008 SCRA spent approximately $600,000 on an investigation directed mostly at Research Authority Chief Executive Office Bill Mahoney, performed mainly by SCRA’s law firm of choice (believed to be Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough), and paid for by SCRA funds.
"It is common knowledge of those close to SCRA that some of these alleged questionable dealings may concern some (SCRA board) trustees," Masters states, indicating that the findings of the report have not been shared with the governor or the Legislature.
He also implied trustees of having "input into issues and decisions from which they benefit directly and/or indirectly without prior disclosure of their affiliations," adding that trustees can freely support issues in discussion and only have to recuse themselves when it comes time to vote.
Ports Authority Spends 29K on Panama Trip 2011-01-27 12:35:47
The South Carolina State Ports Authority picked up the tab for a three-day trip to Panama last September that included several legislators, and all members of a commission that oversees the authority.
At least $29,000 was spent on the Ports Authority-sponsored junket, which sought to promote South Carolina ports to Panama Canal officials. Information gathered by The Nerve showed that the authority covered most of the costs for the seven-member legislative group, which included five legislators and two staffers, and eight Ports Authority staffers and board members.
In addition, the Ports Authority also paid airfare and hotel costs for a representative of a Washington lobbying firm and a senior vice president at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Included in the expenditures was nearly $1,600 spent by the group on one dinner at a private club in Panama and another $1,440 was spent on books about the Panama Canal.
Two lawmakers who went on the trip – Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, and then-Rep. Harry Cato, R-Greenville – spent an extra day in Panama, though documents provided no explanation why. The other three lawmakers who traveled with the group were Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; Sen. Phillip Shoopman, R-Greenville; and Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter.
All five lawmakers are or were members of the Ports Authority Review and Oversight Commission, which is required to screen board candidates and conduct oversight reviews of the authority at least once every two years.
SCRA Chairman Calls for Investigation into CEO 2010-12-03 20:45:03
South Carolina Research Authority board Chairman Bill Masters has called for "an independent investigation into the trustworthiness" of Research Authority CEO Bill Mahoney after Mahoney explained raises for SCRA employees two different ways.
During a Nov. 17 SCRA board meeting in Charleston, Masters also charged that Research Authority executives have disseminated some of his SCRA e-mails through their home computers. He said the action "indicates a breach of security within our organization."
None of the other board members present at the meeting spoke in favor of Masters’ comments about probing Mahoney’s actions.
Many of the Research Authority’s board members are top-ranking state officials, including the presidents of the state’s major publicly funded universities, the state commerce secretary and the chairman of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.
The SCRA is a state-created and controlled technology and real estate company. It is the central player in efforts by state government and some local governments in South Carolina to develop a "knowledge-based economy." As such, the SCRA functions as a nebulous and unusual, if not unique, public-private entity. It does not receive any direct state appropriations. But the Research Authority was chartered under state law, in 1983, and granted 1,400 acres and $500,000 in start-up capital.
Details hard to find at S.C. State 2010-11-24 11:47:18
Getting details on how millions of state and federal program dollars for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been spent over the past 12 years will be tough.
A preliminary review by the Charleston Post and Courier of some of South Carolina State University's records on the center reveals a convoluted system of record-keeping, with no central control and records on the same subject located in different offices or buildings.
The newspaper's findings are echoed in a recently completed consultant's report obtained by the Post and Courier. The report by the financial consulting firm Elliott Davis found that the scattered approach to grant management not only makes it more difficult to learn how grant money has been spent, but it also makes it more likely the school will fail to comply with grant requirements.
The Orangeburg-based school has responded to a request from the newspaper under the state's Freedom of Information Act for access to financial records for transportation center programs from its launch in 1998 to the present. But it remains unclear how long it will take to sort through the financial information, and how much detail the school ultimately will be able to provide.
That's because getting to the bottom of how money was spent presents somewhat of a scavenger hunt, with pieces of the financial puzzle in different campus locations.
"Details are available on the campus, but not all in this office," John Smalls, senior vice president for finance and facilities, said of the Office of Grants and Contracts.
In that office, financial documents on grants are available in thick folders. There are numerous folders for each grant that makes up the $31.7 million for transportation programs that has flowed to the center since the program was launched 12 years ago.
For instance, the center has received $5.8 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration. But the office has dozens of folders of financial documents on that money, school officials said.
And those folders don't contain much detail on where the money specifically went.
For example, in one folder, the Post and Courier found a list of 11 "contractual services" in a particular year, and corresponding amounts that ranged from $2,500 to $38,402. But the folder contained no detail on what the money was used for, to whom it was paid or what was accomplished with it.
For more on this story, go to: Details hard to find at S.C. State, Charleston "Post and Courier," Aug. 19, 2010
Where did the money go? 2010-11-24 11:18:26
"County treasurer reported that nearly a million dollars has been spent from the landfill fund, but neither Brown nor Pasley has provided any information on where this money has gone.
Williamsburg County Supervisor Stanley Pasley told The Weekly Observer on Dec. 10, that he believed in open government, and the rest of the requested records would be provided shortly, however, as of deadline day, Friday, Dec. 19, none have been received from the county supervisor’s office or the county treasurer, though they are nearly a month past due."
Innovista: State-Driven Economy Struggling Despite $140 Million in Taxpayer Support 2010-11-24 09:12:12
When plans for Innovista, the University of South Carolina’s 500-acre research campus, were rolled out in 2005, it was touted as a can’t-miss project that would become a driving force for the area’s economy. Today, some $140 million has already been poured into Innovista, most of it state and local tax dollars. But the if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach has reaped few results.
The empty floors that dominate much of Innovista offer harsh proof of the dangers involved in letting government attempt to drive the economy, rather than leaving it to the private sector. Taxing profits away from individuals and businesses to help fund risky research by academics and advocacy groups is a waste of scarce resources and almost always generates a poor return.
S.C. Legislature Generous to Itself, Staff 2010-11-10 12:08:58
When it comes to being employed by the S.C. General Assembly, it is indeed nice work if you can get it.
While folks all across South Carolina have heard a lot about the dire condition of the state budget as households struggle through the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, underneath the copper-domed Capitol in Columbia it's anything but a scene out of Dickens' Hard Times.
In a three-part series, The Nerve reveals how the General Assembly has been generous to itself and its staff members even as lawmakers have sliced and diced the rest of state government to cope with the effects of the recession.
This comes on the heels of a special series in October on lawmakers’ salaries and expenses. That three-part report showed how the average yearly cost of legislators is about three times their oft-cited base annual salary of $10,400.
Now, The Nerve is taking the next step by probing the salaries of legislative employees. The inquiry starts at multimillion-dollar budget increases that both the House and Senate have given themselves over the past couple of years, the meltdown of state coffers notwithstanding.
From there, the Legislature’s generosity to its staff comes fully into focus in the picture of raises, in some cases substantial salary increases, that employees of the House and Senate have received, again amid the general fund contraction.
From fiscal year 2008 through last fiscal year, which ended June 30, nearly $31 million was spent in salaries for an average of 195 legislative staffers, The Nerve’s review found, based on records provided by the House and Senate clerks under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
On average each of those three years, taxpayers shelled out $6 million in salaries for 113 Senate staff members and $4.2 million for 82 House employees. The Senate has 46 elected members; the House, 124.
Meanwhile, despite the $1.6 billion slashed from the general fund over the past few years, the General Assembly budgeted about $1.6 million, or 15 percent more, for staff salaries this year compared to what was paid to legislative employees last fiscal year.
Comparing those figures to legislative counterparts in North Carolina helps put things into perspective:
The average salary for full- and part-time S.C. House and Senate staffers over the past three fiscal years was about $52,000 – $11,000 more than the average salary this fiscal year for staff members of the N.C. General Assembly, according to an analysis of North Carolina legislative records provided to The Nerve.
In North Carolina, permanent legislative employees work year-round, while a far greater number of temporary staffers generally work full-time while the General Assembly is in session, and three days a week when the Legislature is not in session, said Wesley Taylor, the N.C. legislative finance controller.
The per-capita income last year in the Palmetto State was about $31,800, compared to more than $34,400 in North Carolina, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Translation: South Carolina pays legislative staff significantly more on average than North Carolina does despite the fact that this state’s income levels are lower.
Moreover, the $52,000 average take-home pay for legislative employees in South Carolina far exceeds that of their counterparts throughout the rest of state government – about $39,000, S.C. Budget and Control Board data show.
That’s a difference of $13,000 more for House and Senate staff.
To read more on the story, go to: Legislature Generous to Itself, Staff, The Nerve, Nov. 8, 2010
Transparency in Budget & Control Board 2010-10-22 14:37:24
Investigative reporting by The Nerve leads to more transparency in Budget & Control Board meetings.
SCRA Baits and Switches on Pay Hikes 2010-10-22 14:34:27
Days after The Nerve and other media outlets reported that the South Carolina Research Authority planned to enact a largely across-the-board 6.5 percent pay increase for its 240 employees, CEO Bill Mahoney privately backtracked, claiming the media erred.
In an Oct. 4 letter to employees, Mahoney derided coverage of SCRA’s board of trustees’ executive committee meeting on Sept. 30, in which several significant changes were approved.
“Since some of those approvals were somewhat inaccurately reported in the news … I thought I would write to you now and provide you with the facts,” his letter read, adding, “Here are the details, which the short attention spans of the press could not accurately report…”
According to Mahoney’s letter, salary adjustments were calculated for 97 employees – rather than for all SCRA employees – and those increases ranged as high as 9 percent.
“The press inaccurately seized upon 6.5%, a number discussed during the (executive committee) meeting as an example, but not as an aggregate average,” he wrote.
However, The Nerve videotaped the executive committee meeting and a transcript of the session reveals a different story.
To read more on the story, go to: SCRA Baits and Switches on Pay Hikes, The Nerve, Oct. 19, 2010 Template:2.default
- ↑ Details hard to find at S.C. State, Charleston "Post and Courier," Aug. 19, 2010
- ↑ Details hard to find at S.C. State, Charleston "Post and Courier," Aug. 19, 2010
- ↑ Details hard to find at S.C. State, Charleston "Post and Courier," Aug. 19, 2010
- ↑ Lawmakers Cost Taxpayers Millions, The Nerve, Oct. 5, 2010
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