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South Carolina editorial roundup

May 15, 2019

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

May 13

The Post and Courier on rebuilding a sea wall:

A bill that would allow DeBordieu Colony to rebuild its sea wall could erode the state’s beachfront management policy if Gov. Henry McMaster signs it into law.

The bill would put to rest a longstanding legal issue at no cost to taxpayers, but it also would set a precedent that opens a door for similar exemptions. That makes the cost too high.

About 10 beachfront homes are in danger of slumping into the ocean if a roughly 4,000-foot sea wall first built in the early 1980s isn’t repaired. But if DeBordieu property owners are allowed to rebuild, what’s to stop other communities from demanding the same treatment? All of which goes against beachfront management laws that forbid hard structures on beaches.

Odd things happen in the final days of a legislative session. A last-minute amendment to a less controversial bill that enabled property owners to repair “wing walls” — angled structures at the ends of sea walls meant to stop the surf from causing erosion behind them — paved the way for the Senate to approve the measure.

Before the vote last week, Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, as much as admitted the bill was a stinker. A noticeable number of lawmakers abstained from voting.

Sen. Goldfinch said he knew environmental groups such as the Coastal Conservation League would oppose it, but that he felt a duty to side with his constituents whose properties were threatened. The upscale, gated community contributes mightily to the area’s property tax revenues, accounting for up to 20 percent of Georgetown County’s take, he said.

“I disagree with how we got here,” he said, “but we would not be in this position had we not dealt with year after year of protracted litigation over this issue. They would have rebuilt it, and we’d be done with it.”

The DeBordieu sea wall (as well as some groins) is part of a longstanding struggle that has spawned numerous lawsuits. Previously, lawmakers have tried to exempt DeBordieu from state law via budget provisos — a route that rightly led to litigation but no resolution over the sea wall.

But now it looks like the island community is in the clear as long as the governor signs off. That has some beach preservation advocates furious, fearful the exemption will set a precedent for undermining beachfront management law, which just last year underwent a subtle but important shift in language from “retreat” to “beach preservation.”

Well-established arguments against sea walls are pretty clear: They’re ineffective over the long run, worsen erosion adjacent to them and, once high tide is lapping at a sea wall, the natural beach is mostly gone, and that interrupts everything from public recreation to sea turtle reproduction.

As one beachfront management expert put it: “You can’t manage the coast one parcel at a time.” Environmental groups are especially frustrated because they helped shape state law to anticipate and prevent such exemptions. And in the case of DeBordieu, the bill is seen as legislative overreach because it exempts the sea wall from permits that would otherwise be needed.

The bill puts Gov. McMaster in an unenviable position, but he should veto it because it is averse to beachfront management law developed over decades — and the bill was passed in a questionable way. Unfortunately, some DeBordieu property owners may have to suffer for it. But trying to buttress homes against the ocean is ultimately futile even if they are million-dollar-plus properties.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com

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May 12

The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on stopping violence:

It’s been 10 years.

In May 2009, the point was driven home brutally in Orangeburg County: Police work is very dangerous.

We went so far as to name the events of that month “May mayhem.”

An Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy was shot to death in the line of duty. A day later, a Highway Patrol trooper was shot while making a traffic stop. Later, a man admitted in court that he would have shot another officer but the weapon jammed. And then, Orangeburg Department of Public Safety officers were fired upon while responding to a distress call in which an estranged father was trying to kidnap his son.

In May 2009 there was more — another vivid reminder of the dangers. Alabama jail escapee Thomas Ivey was executed for the slaying of Orangeburg Officer Tommy Harrison in 1993.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.

Few can argue that law enforcement is a top priority during this Police Week. It was in 1993, it was in 2009 and it is very much so in 2019.

We live in a dangerous world and difficult times.

In his final interview with the Panther, the student newspaper, as Claflin University’s president, the retiring Dr. Henry N. Tisdale was asked about the violence from which law enforcement from the campus to the community is tasked with preventing.

His insight is food for thought here as we deal with today and move into the future.

“I am very concerned,” Tisdale said. “In America, we have an issue with guns and violence.”

Tisdale said there is an overabundance of guns and gun violence “seems to be increasing.”

He sees the need for a proactive approach not unlike he has fostered many times during 25 years at the Claflin helm. The university just does more in collaborating with other agencies, he said.

That means more than institutions of higher learning and their security forces cooperating with the sheriff and city police, he said.

The universities and colleges locally offer a wealth of knowledge and research expertise. “We have to use the intellectual resources on our campuses.”

Rather than being reactive, study other approaches to preventing violence. Look at what has worked in different communities. “Come up with a plan.”

It is an approach with which law enforcement will surely agree as it should always be understood that officers are on the front line in trying to prevent violence and dealing with it when it occurs. But law enforcement alone cannot prevent violence. Doing so will take a collaborative effort of the legal system, community resources and people willing to try to make a difference.

Online: https://thetandd.com

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May 10

The Post and Courier of Charleston on the incentives package offered to the Carolina Panthers:

It’s a little disappointing that the Legislature agreed to offer a $115 million incentive package to the Carolina Panthers to build a new practice facility and move its headquarters a few miles south from Charlotte to Rock Hill.

Even after Panthers owner David Tepper threatened to keep the headquarters in Charlotte if the Legislature didn’t acquiesce to his demands, we weren’t completely convinced that the deal was off. Professional sports teams are notorious for playing governments against each other to extract concessions, and Charlotte apparently wasn’t playing the game. Even if the move was off, we were never convinced that it was worth anywhere near the $188 million in annual tax revenue and 5,715 jobs that the state Commerce Department claimed.

Even top Panthers advocates in the Senate acknowledged in a week of debate that the economic projections were a stretch — although not as much as Gov. Henry McMaster’s over-the-top assertion that luring a football practice field in our state would be as significant as Boeing or BMW. And as supporters kept reminding us, most of the incentive package was tied directly to how many new jobs come to South Carolina: If the Panthers deliver only half the promised jobs, they get only half the tax credits. Indeed, as supporters also kept reminding us, all the Legislature was really voting on was those tax credits — temporary tax cuts in return for new jobs.

Critics were simply using H.4243, which changes the tax definition of a full-time employee to include the Panthers players, as leverage to debate the truly questionable part of the package: $40 million up front to build an interstate interchange for the team. That didn’t need legislative approval; it’s the sort of thing the Commerce Department already has the authority to dole out whenever it sees fit. And that’s the problem.

Or at least the potential problem.

Maybe we’ll find out that the absurd assumptions the agency used to justify this project were an anomaly, and that it uses solid numbers to justify all of its other recruitment deals. Clearly, the department under Secretary Bobby Hitt has had some remarkable successes that have benefited our entire state tremendously.

Incentives also are an important tool in helping existing businesses grow and create jobs for South Carolinians. Maintaining a strong pro-business climate is crucial to the economy.

But we don’t really know whether everything has been a success, because the department keeps secret most of its incentives — and perhaps more important, the calculations that justify those incentives. The only reason we saw the assumptions behind the Panthers deal was that Mr. McMaster hoped that making them public would persuade the Legislature to agree to a change to state law that was needed to make the Panthers meet the tax-credit requirements.

In exchange for critics’ agreement to let the bill pass, supporters agreed to require the Commerce Department to produce an annual report of state economic incentives worth $100,000 or more; the House will still need to sign off on that before it can become law. That kind of transparency is a good start until the Legislative Audit Council completes a study, requested by a bipartisan group of senators, of all economic incentives going back 10 years.

For his part, Mr. McMaster says he welcomes the audit — he’d just like it to go back further. And the governor, long an advocate of government transparency, told us that he would support making the details of economic incentives public, with a few exceptions. That’s good news.

The reality is that we sometimes have to offer economic incentives to convince companies to move to South Carolina. But we need to make sure we’re giving out those incentives only when we really need to — and that we’re getting more in return than we’re giving away.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com

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