Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on hospitality tax:
The hospitality tax passed by Aiken City Council on Monday will only be good for our economy if it's tied to astute and forward-thinking decision making.
Setting clear objectives is a must, which involves using revenue from this tax specifically to reinvest in our community.
City officials have indicated that the anticipated revenue — at least $1.2 million per year — would not be lumped into the general fund, but instead placed into an "economic investment" budget. This is a smart approach, especially given the impression among some residents that certain projects guided by the city have been ill-advised and/or poorly orchestrated.
These initiatives — such as the city's purchasing of homes in the Crosland Park neighborhood and changes to the city's municipal building — have not panned out exactly as expected. These are obviously works in progress, but are projects that, while certainly done in good faith, should also carry lessons for council moving forward.
Funds expected from the hospitality tax have already wisely been designated toward clear budgetary areas, including $600,000 for business-related investments, which includes a public parking deck, $160,000 for business license relief, $110,000 for business vitality and $330,000 for enterprise capital reserves, which includes infrastructure expansion.
A number of officials, including Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh, have in recent months recognized that the city must find some way to boost revenue, particularly acknowledging how council had not increased property taxes for more than two decades and was facing a $700,000 budgetary shortfall. For years, this lack of a tax increase was undoubtedly a feather in the city's cap. Aiken's low tax burden, as well as that of the state, in general, helped to attract new residents, particularly retirees, which helped to sustain development. That growth, however, unfortunately began to shrink as the recession spread and the economy stagnated. This tax can help reverse that trend.
The passage of the hospitality tax has been categorized by some as only perpetuating that inactivity or even making the economy sink even more. However, a hospitality tax should create the kind of revenue the city needs to not only reinvest in the community, but also free up dollars in the general fund.
Some also urged council and the city to try to take the pulse of the public through an advisory referendum, but our community has elected officials for a reason. Our government is set up to operate as a representative democracy where we elected these officials to effectively be our trustees. Demands for advisory referendums on hot button issues would effectively evaporate the fabric of this system.
While their decision may not be a popular one among some, council should be commended for the planning, foresight and political fortitude they have shown in passing this tax.
The next step for council is to not allow this fund to languish or be used for projects that won't legitimately help draw tourists. Part of that fiscal responsibility should involve ensuring that the dollars generated are actually in place before they are spent.
With such a mindset, spurring commerce across the city should become easier if this money is smartly spent. The onus is now on council to make sure that's actually the case through smart investments that kindle needed development within the city.
Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on Iran bill restoring balance:
The Senate last week overcame some misguided Republican obstruction and passed a bill giving Congress the right to review and reject an agreement setting limits to Iran's nuclear program. The vote was an overwhelming 98-1, a strong sign that Senate Democrats agree with most of their GOP colleagues that Congress has a role to play in the Iran negotiations.
In view of its veto-proof support, the version of the legislation approved by the Senate has the reluctant support of the White House, which had tried to sideline Congress in the negotiating process.
The result, if also approved by the House, could work to the president's — and the nation's — benefit by alerting Iran's rulers that an agreement that fails to get strong congressional support is not likely to hold.
That is the same message Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and 46 other Republican senators tried to convey in a March 9 open letter to Iran that was roundly criticized by many of the same senators who voted for the Senate bill.
But 98 votes obviously send a stronger message than 47 signatures.
Nevertheless, Sen. Cotton was the sole vote against the measure. Earlier, he and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tried to torpedo White House support for the bill by proposing that it require Iran to abandon its enmity to Israel and cease support for terrorist groups. Their amendments, aptly pegged "poison pills," were wisely sidelined.
Now it's the House's turn — and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is solidly behind the legislation.
As he put it in a prepared statement: "I look forward to House passage of this bill to hold President Obama's administration accountable."
The bill requires that the text of any agreement and supporting materials on limiting Iran's nuclear programs be immediately sent to Congress. The president would be barred from lifting any congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran for 30 days while Congress reviews the agreement. During this review, Congress could vote whether such sanctions could be lifted and when.
These are relatively modest constraints on the president. Yet they take an important step toward restoring a role for Congress in foreign policy, and that is worth more than any specific criticism of the bill.
The House should rush to give this bipartisan legislation a second veto-proof majority.
Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on Volvo moving to the state:
The Times and Democrat region may not be home to Volvo Car Corp.'s new manufacturing plant in South Carolina, but the news is just about as good as it can get otherwise.
As Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson pointed out after Monday's announcement of the $500 million plant and 4,000 jobs by 2030 in Berkeley County, Holly Hill is only about a 10-mile drive from the location at Exit 177 off Interstate 26.
The site is also about 20 miles from Interstate 95 and the Orangeburg County line, and 35 miles from Santee's 1,322-acre Jafza Magna Park, putting the new plant adjacent to Orangeburg County's Global Logistics Triangle, the county's trademarked designation consisting of the area near Interstate 95/I-26 and U.S. 301 near Santee that has industrial parks ready and waiting for what inevitably will be a host of supplier industries for Volvo.
"This puts the Global Logistics Triangle in a 'honey hole' of suppliers," Robinson told The Times and Democrat. "This elevates every aspect of economic development, the attention to workforce and what we have to do to be ready to take training to the next level of generations of workers for Volvo."
Orangeburg County Development Commission Chairman Kenneth Middleton was equally optimistic, saying, "Unquestionably, this raises the probability of new plant placement in the Orangeburg County market."
Not to be forgotten is the recent announcement by Daimler AG that will create about 1,300 jobs with a new van-building plant about 30 miles from Charleston in Ladson.
Couple the two with prospects that still other automakers could look at the new "cluster" and prospects of development that Orangeburg County has been seeking for some years along its interstate corridor could be forthcoming.
And with development now giving Charleston stature as a cluster for both the automotive and aerospace industries (Boeing), there is even reason to resurrect the long-held Orangeburg County objective of becoming a major logistics center.
In 2012, the county saw aspirations of being the site for the state's first inland port pass it by when the decision was made to develop the distribution facility in Greer, near the BMW facility and along Interstate 85 with its auto industry base.
The new facility was developed with Norfolk Southern and is operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority. It provides a place for transferring shipping containers between trains and trucks for shipment to or from the coast.
Add Boeing, Volvo and Daimler to the S.C. ports' equation and volume grows all the more, as do the number of trucks in and around a Charleston highway system that is overloaded already.
There is no better place for a secondary inland port location than Orangeburg County, the north-south Interstate 95 route that intersects with the east-west I-26.
An inland port here could service the developing industries directly and serve as the key point for distribution to and from places not easily or presently served by the Upstate inland facility.