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These are our editorials and columns.

Saturday
Apr132019

Have Something to Say? Tell Us About It.

Are you interested in being published in the Anderson Observer? Great! We accept submissions, but we ask you to read (carefully) a few simple guidelines before you send us your pitch.

1. Choose your subject wisely.

We are happy to hear ideas from anyone on any topic, but remember that you’re submitting to an Anderson newspaper, so the topics should be of direct importance to a large number of Andersonians.

2. Put the topic of your opinion piece in the subject line of an email.

Send to commentisfree@andersonobserver.com

In the body of the email, please offer specifics about your idea. It’s much easier for our editors to discover timely and important submissions if the topic is the first thing we see. 

3. Briefly explain who you are.

We don’t want your resume, but – especially if you’re not a full-time writer, which is perfectly fine – it’s helpful to know why you have the specific expertise or experience to write about your subject. We are committed to showcasing a range of issues, stories and voices on the Observer; it’s just difficult to get to know you from an email address. (You must disclose any conflict of interest, financial or otherwise. If any individual or group with an interest in the topic you are pitching has compensated you, tell us.)

4. Be concise and specific in your pitch.

We’re usually looking for 600-800 word opinion pieces that are traditional persuasive pieces (i.e., it has a thesis, supporting evidence and conclusion) or first-person stories tied to a news topic. Either should mean that you can easily summarize what you’d like to write (preferably with links) in about 3-5 sentences. But please don’t just send us completed pieces, as we will have less time to review them in full; we would much rather work with you to shape a good pitch into a great piece than have a good idea arrive, pre-written, in a way that doesn’t quite fit.

Please note all pieces are subject to editing and review by our editorial staff, and we cannot publish pieces that do not meet our editorial standards. 

Thursday
Jan312019

Raising Bar Critical for Education Reform in S.C.

By Thomas A. Wilson/Superintendent, Anderson School District Five

When Speaker of the House Jay Lucas rolled out his 84-page education reform proposal last week, various Dr. Tom Wilsoneducators, politicians, advocacy groups and other stakeholders latched onto a few key proposals. Raising teacher pay, focusing on reading on grade level by third grade, and offering free post-secondary education to children of teachers in unsatisfactory ranked schools all received publicity in various news outlets across the state. All of these proposed changes, and more, deserve to be touted as movement in the right direction.

South Carolina must increase teacher pay to compete with other states and other sectors of the workforce if we want to recruit and retain highly qualified educators. We also must do everything possible to lower the ridiculous amount of testing we require, and the amount of burdensome paperwork teachers are forced to complete. Speaker Lucas and the General Assembly are making strides in the right direction, and Anderson County is lucky to have a strong legislative delegation fighting for our students and teachers in Columbia.

The item I was thrilled to see highlighted, and that has not gained much traction in the media at this time, is just one small sentence on page 71 of the proposal. Section 46, line 32 reads “Beginning with students entering ninth grade in the 2020-2021 School Year, a local board of trustees may require additional units of credit for a high school diploma.” In essence, this one line of legislation would allow school districts in South Carolina to make a substantial leap forward in academic achievement by letting communities decide to raise the number of courses needed to graduate from high school.

In Anderson Five, this could return a sense of relevancy to the senior year of high school at T.L. Hanna and Westside. Instead of what many consider a “wasted” year, where a large percentage of our students do not take an upper level math or science course or have a course load only filled with electives, we could instead provide a better balanced high school experience for our students.

For example, increasing our required units for graduation from 24 units to 28 units would not only allow for increased academic opportunities, it would also allow for a greater and more in-depth exploration of subjects such as foreign languages, music, and career and technology courses by adding to the number of required electives. 

Twenty years ago when he ran for President, George W. Bush spoke about the bigotry of low expectations, and he stated that no child in America should be segregated by these low expectations. Requiring only 24 units for graduation at our high schools shortchanges our students, and sets a bar that is far too low for their educational capacity. In Anderson Five and numerous other high schools around the state with block scheduling, students can currently take 8 units a year, allowing them the space for 32 units over their time in high school. This essentially means that to graduate high school they only need to pass 75% of their courses.

Our students are capable of much more than the current low expectations set by the state, and I believe that students across South Carolina are ready and eager to show that they can academically compete with their peers from across the country. Raising the bar for graduation is a great step in the right direction, and is something that has the potential to elevate how our education system is viewed by parents, teachers, students and employers. I know that our students can rise up if greater rigor is coupled with greater relevancy, and I applaud Speaker Lucas and the General Assembly for recommending these changes to help increase the value of a South Carolina education.

Tuesday
Jan292019

S.C. Would Benefit from Medical Marijuana Research

By Dr. Sue Sisley, MD 

Members of state law enforcement, along with the South Carolina Medical Association, recently held a press conference to announce their opposition to a possible medical cannabis law in the estate. As a psychiatrist, former professor, and cannabis researcher, I’ve followed progress on this issue in South Carolina and even testified before state lawmakers in 2017. It was remarkable to hear some of the absurd claims that came from the event, and I felt the need to respond.  

Presenters at the conference offered a litany of dire claims — cannabis is not medicine, it won’t help the well-being of South Carolinians, and it’s just another step toward full legalization. And most extraordinarily, cannabis is the “most dangerous drug in America.” Each one of these claims is false, and clearly so. 

Cannabis is safely used as a medicine by hundreds of thousands of patients across America. Whether it helps cancer patients maintain an appetite after chemotherapy, or reduces painful swelling in Crohn’s patients, or gives people a safer alternative to opiates, cannabis provides relief to patients. Lots of them. Clearly South Carolinians with these and other serious conditions would also benefit.  

Opponents try to skirt its practical use by claiming that because the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet approved cannabis as a medicine, it simply isn’t. Cannabis has been used as medicine since before written history, and that use continues today.  

And to claim that medical cannabis is just a step toward legalization for adults is factually incorrect. Thirty-two states have medical cannabis programs, some dating back to the 90s, and only 10 of them have extended protections for all adults. This also overlooks how laws are passed in South Carolina. A majority of lawmakers in both chambers would have to vote in favor of legalization, and the governor would be asked to sign such a bill. Many believe that is a long way off in the Palmetto State. 

And finally, we were told that cannabis is “the most dangerous drug in the U.S.” That is an incredible statement given what we know today. Our society faces the daily scourge from meth, opiate abuse or misuse, ecstasy, and many other drugs that take the lives of those who use them. In its long history of medical use, cannabis has yet to lead to an overdose death. Is it completely free from harm? No — but that is why states regulate and control its use. That is the very point of these medical cannabis programs. We test and label products and limit sales to those who qualify for these reasons, and allow limited access.

Medical use of cannabis helps patients in very real ways, and residents of South Carolina deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as patients in so many other states. It’s time for South Carolina to step past the propaganda and false claims and adopt a regulated medical cannabis program for its seriously ill patients.

Dr. Sue Sisley MD is a physician practicing Internal Medicine & Psychiatry and she serves as President of Scottsdale Research Institute. Among other projects, she is the principal investigator for the only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial involving medical cannabis use by combat veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD. She has also participated in studies involving cannabis for pain management, as a substitute for opioids, along with a safety study related to cannabis edibles. 

Monday
Jan212019

MLK Jr. Letter Still Holds Power Today

Monday
Dec242018

Christmas a Time to Regain Wonder

William Blake, Illustration 1 to Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”: The Descent of Peace, 1814-1816., pen and watercolor.CreditCreditThe Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

 

By Ed Simon/Staff writer for The Millions via the New York Times

For me, few images of Christ’s nativity convey its strange, luminescent wonder as much as William Blake’s “The Descent of Peace.” Painted in the early 19th century as part of a series of illustrations for John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” Blake imagined the scene as bathed in an otherworldly light that holds the darkness at bay while an angel somersaults in the heavens. Within the manger, the infant Christ floats in the air with arms outstretched above an exhausted Virgin Mary. 

Blake’s reality thrummed with a charged beauty — as a child he had visions of a “tree full of angels,” and when he was 4 he saw God put his head in through his family’s kitchen window. Yet it is precisely that sense of the sacred and the profane being commingled, of our prosaic reality being a site for divine wonder, which makes Blake a prophet perfectly attuned to Advent.

Christmas, according to the carol, is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Certainly it’s one of the most commercialized, where it’s hard to sense much of the sacred import between Black Friday and the perennial culture-war scuffles over the meaning of the season. How much better, then, to see the holiday through Blake’s eyes, where “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” One need not be a conventional Christian — I’m not — to see the significance of the nativity story. Because what the nativity story conveys is a narrative of wonder threaded through prosaic reality, where the birth of a child is an act of God’s self-creation, where a manger can be the site of the universe’s new genesis. Perhaps Blake’s seeing angels in trees and God in his kitchen is the true nature of things, and everyday appearances are the real delusions.

It is difficult to see those angels today. We live less in an “age of wonder” than we do in an age of anger, anxiety and fear; the age of the weaponized tweet and horrific push notification. I don’t believe that one can die from lack of wonder, but I’m certain that a deficit of it will ensure that one has never really lived. If that’s true, then few of us, including myself, are really totally alive in this anxious age, for anxiety is the great enemy of wonder. Anxiety implores us to retreat, wonder to expand; ignorance festers in small minds, wonder spreads out from the open one; fear demands we build walls, wonder that we tear them all down. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed in his “Culture and Value” that “Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.” What would it mean here and now to cleanse the doors of perception, to reclaim this strange awareness we call wonder?

The power of the story of the nativity is its ability to transform our prosaic experience. One need not be a believer to see the value in this. What would appear to be a humble human birth is at the same time holy and miraculous, with animals laid down before the Lord, and the star of Bethlehem guiding the Magi to Christ’s cradle. 

To wonder is to dwell in amazement, surprise and the miraculous. One can experience wonder when meditating upon the magnitude of the universe, or in contemplating Blake’s poetry or art. Wonder is when we apprehend the sublime and the magnificent in what we encounter every day, with both humility and delight. The wonder in the Christmas story is that something as human as a baby could also be something as foreign as God.

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In thinking about the meaning of the nativity today, I find its most potent and radical message to be one not just of wonder, but of wonder as means of approaching difference, of experiencing and understanding the Other. As God, Christ is supposed to be radically foreign, but as Jesus he is intimately human. The theology of incarnation explains that union’s tension, but the broader philosophical implications concern how love must be inculcated by wonder at this paradox. The philosopher Simon Critchley, describing the contours for a “faith of the faithless,” writes that “Christ is the incarnation of love as an act of imagination … the imaginative projection of love onto all creatures.”

Wonder is the antidote to hatred, for wonder is fundamentally radical. Had Herod any sense of wonder for the exquisite singularity of all people, would the massacre of the innocents have commenced? If we had wonder at the individual universe that is each fellow human, at the cosmic complexity of other people, would we put refugees in cages?

We do not have to look far into the current state of the world to realize that this time requires a return to wonder — what I would call a “politics of wonder,” predicated on both empathy and celebration of difference. Those of us, religious believers or not, who understand the profound meaning of the nativity must fight on behalf of wonder and in the service of a future society that places wonder at its very center. 

If a “right to wonder” sounds utopian or quixotic, if it implies radical reorientation and questioning, it is seems untenable or strange, then that’s precisely the point. To put wonder at the center of our personal and political lives is not denialism, but a rebellion against the life-denying strictures of the present. To wonder is an act of resistance, and an act of love. We require this not just on Christmas, but on every day of the year, not just because it may save our lives, but also because it will remind us of why they need saving in the first place.

Ed Simon is a staff writer for The Millions, an editor at Berfrois, and an adjunct assistant professor of English and media studies at Bentley University. He is the author of “America and Other Fictions: On Radical Faith and Post-Religion.”

Thursday
Nov222018

Gratitude is Happiness Doubled by Wonder

By Greg Wilson

Editor/Publisher, The Anderson Obsever

With less than six weeks remaining in 2018, we take time to celebrate Thanksgiving, that is uniquely American holiday. According to a recent story in the Boston it has been marked, in various forms, on this continent since the late 1500s. 

Abraham Lincoln finally made Thanksgiving an official holiday, to be celebrated on the third Thursday of November, while in the middle of the Civil War in 1863. His proclamation both reflected the long-observed intent of those who had gone before him as he wrote the holiday would be a time to: "Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union." 

The noble purpose of Thanksgiving Day being set aside to praise God for his provision and express our gratefulness for his "deliverances and blessings" still hold a place for many of as we gather with family and friends, show what is best about us by serving those who lack even the most basic of needs. All across Anderson County today such groups as the Haven of Rest, Anderson Interfaith Ministries, the Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, Clean Start, the Good Neighbor Cupboard, plus churches too many to name here are turning away from the "national perverseness" of self interest, express their gratitude through kindness and generosity. 

Many families will gather around their tables today and ask each person to offer up a list of things for which they are grateful today. 

Meanwhile, so many in far-off lands will spend today day standing in long lines for rice or beans or a jug of clean water, as most of us here will eat from tables so full of food they can barely contain the weight.

The majority of us, though we may not have all the things we think we want, we have more than we need, and hopefully are sharing with those who do not. 

But even though in some ways Thanksgiving Day still holds true to the traditions, such as gratitude and demonstrations of such thankfulness through helping our neighbors, is it losing ground every year to a perverseness hardly imaginable when Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Day proclamation. It has become the time of year when America's lust for material goods expresses itself in ways far beyond simply people unleashing their minds to go on spending sprees. 

In the fever of holiday shopping and buying many gifts for those who often have little need, every year our culture chips away at and disrupts America's most traditional time for families to be together. The trend of opening stores on Thanksgiving Day for shoppers, with little regard to their employees who will miss their own family gatherings continues to grow. The irony is these workers are being asked to clock in so that others can also miss or leave their own family and friends to go shopping.

Black Friday starts a day early, Americans who work retail, and  already face growing pressure of long hours and generally below-average wages, are now being asked to forfeit one of their rare holidays, for "sales" that run counter the core idea on whicmyour prayers are with you.

For the rest of us, we can send a message to retailers who show such disregard to their workers by staying home today. We can shop tomorrow, but today we can send a message to those who think Thanksgiving is just another day to feed the cash register. 

And tomorrow, still full of turkey and gravy, we face the next holiday challenge of maintaining our grateful heart in a world so full of bright, shiny objects vying for our attention and our wallet.

The reward is a gift that needs no wrapping paper, ribbon or space under the Christmas tree. The research is conclusive that those who approach life with a sense of gratitude, have fewer mental and physical problems, live longer, exhibit less stress, have a stronger immune system, and even handle loss far better than those who do not live life with the recognition that they do indeed have a lot for which to be grateful.

How does a person get to that place, a place where gratitude is more than an occasional occurrence?  

The best place to start, according to one study, is to verbally acknowledge those things for which you are thankful every day. Not just today. Those in this study who wrote a daily gratitude list for one full year expressed the experience profoundly changed their lives. Stories of overcoming depression, lowered blood pressure, and even healing of relationships were common among those who finished the year-long gratitude list project.

So make your first holiday gift this year one for yourself. Commit to a daily practice of gratitude, verbal or written for the next 365 days. You won't be sorry.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote:  Thanks are the highest form of thought... gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

And that is my Thanksgiving wish to all this season as you give thanks today, that you will experience happiness doubled by wonder.

Thursday
Nov222018

A Time for Gratitude and Grace

By Anne Lamott/Parade Magazine

No matter how you say it, grace can transform an ordinary meal into a celebration—of family, love, and gratitude.

We didn't say grace at our house when I was growing up because my parents were atheists. I knew even as a little girl that everyone at every table needed blessing and encouragement, but my family didn't ask for it. Instead, my parents raised glasses of wine to the chef: Cheers. Dig in. But I had a terrible secret, which was that I believed in God, a divine presence who heard me when I prayed, who stayed close to me in the dark. So at 6 years old I began to infiltrate religious families like a spy—Mata Hari in plaid sneakers.

One of my best friends was a Catholic girl. Her boisterous family bowed its collective head and said, "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts. …" I was so hungry for these words; it was like a cool breeze, a polite thank-you note to God, the silky magnetic energy of gratitude. I still love that line.

I believed that if your family said grace, it meant you were a happy family, all evidence to the contrary. But I saw at certain tables that an improvised grace could cause friction or discomfort. My friend Mark reports that at his big southern childhood Thanksgivings, someone always managed to say something that made poor Granny feel half dead. "It would be along the lines of ‘And Lord, we are just glad you have seen fit to keep Mama with us for one more year.' We would all strain to see Granny giving him the fisheye."

I noticed some families shortened the pro forma blessing so they could get right to the meal. If there were more males than females, it was a boy chant, said as one word: "GodisgreatGodisgoodletusthankHimforourfoodAmen." I also noticed that grace usually wasn't said if the kids were eating in front of the TV, as if God refused to listen over the sound of it.

And we've all been held hostage by grace sayers who use the opportunity to work the room, like the Church Lady. But more often, people simply say thank you—we understand how far short we must fall, how selfish we can be, how self-righteous, what brats. And yet God has given us this marvelous meal.

It turns out that my two brothers and I all grew up to be middle-aged believers. I've been a member of the same Presbyterian church for 27 years. My older brother became a born-again Christian—but don't ask him to give the blessing, as it can last forever. I adore him, but your food will grow cold. My younger brother is an unconfirmed but freelance Catholic.

So now someone at our holiday tables always ends up saying grace. I think we're in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings, before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We're acknowledging that this food didn't just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow.

We say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years, in spite of it all; that we have each other's backs, and hilarious companionship. We say thank you for the plentiful and outrageous food: Kathy's lox, Robby's bûche de Noël. We pray to be mindful of the needs of others. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love's presence, of Someone's great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.

Anne Lamott's newest book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
 is now available.

Monday
Nov052018

How We Respond Tuesday Will Tell Others Who We Are

There’s a decision each of us needs to make that’s as important as any selection we make on our ballots. That is how we will respond to the outcome of the Nov. 6 election.

It’s unlikely that any of us will see exactly the results we hope for in every race, or that anyone will see defeat on every front. But, no matter the outcome, there will be winners and losers; there will be celebration and disappointment. How we respond — as individuals and as a nation — will set the tone for us as we move ahead. In a very real sense, our collective response will either fortify or weaken our democracy.

Are we able to accept loss and move on to pursue unity as a nation? Accepting loss doesn’t mean capitulating on our values or beliefs, or discontinuing resistance and peaceful protest. It means taking loss with grace and civility and committing to seek common ground as we continue to advocate for our positions and beliefs.

Equally important, if we end up in the winning column, can we be gracious in victory? Can we resist the impulse to gloat or smirk, or embarrass the opposition? Can we put ourselves in the place of people experiencing loss and try to imagine how their pain feels even if we can’t empathize with their political positions? If we humiliate them with insults and our own insufferable and righteous condescension, they will resent and despise us. There’s no healing in that.

We need to be brutally honest with ourselves. Who do we want to be and what sort of country do we want to live in? And are we willing to restrain our own behavior and act in accordance with our best values rather than our initial impulses?

We have to ask ourselves now, before we know the outcome of the election: Do we want a united country? Are we still capable of coming together to productively and positively address the complex issues that have divided us?

Under these very difficult and painful circumstances, can we stand up for civility, respect and kindness? And for the principles our nation was founded on? This must be a grass-roots effort, because we’ve seen that many of our elected officials lack the will or desire to bring us together.

We also have to recognize that there are some people who want to foment discord and further divide us. They will deliberately fling taunts and sow conflict. Not everyone wants to promote or model civility. Our job is to not fuel them by giving them our attention or engaging at their level. Whether we share or abhor their political positions, our message must be: “Henceforth, the rules have changed. If you cannot speak and act with respect, honesty and civility, you will not be welcome in my home, my workspace or on my screens.”

Let us never forget that our children will be watching and learning from how adults respond — whether to victory or to defeat. The behaviors we model will determine what sort of children we raise. That responsibility is one we must take very seriously.

How others respond on Nov. 6 will tell us who they are. How we respond will tell others who we are. Let’s get this right.

Sunday
Nov042018

Trump Says Election Vote on His Economy, But Is It?

On many measures, the US economy has boomed under Trump. Unemployment is at lows unseen since the first moon landing, stock markets remain close to record highs, business confidence is up, trade agreements Trump has slammed as “unfair” are being rewritten. On Friday the government’s latest jobs report showed wages were rising at their highest rate since 2009.

If the Republicans come through in Tuesday’s vote and outperform expectations – despite Trump’s unpopularity – then no doubt a lot of pundits will be using the campaign quote coined by James Carville, strategist to Bill Clinton, to explain the outcome: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Trump is pushing his hard line on immigration harder than his economic record. Polling shows economic issues become less of a factor when the economy is on a sound footing.

Immigration may play well to his base but swing voters will decide this election, and the economy is still a big issue. According to Gallup, in September, 13% of US voters rated economic issues as their highest priority, equal to the number concerned about immigration.

Wavering voters may well be looking to the numbers while they decide who gets their vote. The top line for “Trumponomics” looks good. A deeper dive exposes some uncomfortable facts about the US economy, but the headlines could be enough to propel the Republicans back into office.

Unemployment rate

How US unemployment rose and fell under Obama and Trump

The US unemployment rate hit 3.7% in September, its lowest rate since 1969. The US has now added jobs for 96 consecutive months, the longest streak of jobs growth since records began. The majority of those jobs were added under Barack Obama’s presidency but, hey … he’s no longer president.

But what kind of jobs have been added? Wage growth has lagged behind jobs growth since the recession, suggesting that the kinds of jobs the US is adding are lower-waged and that, thanks in part of the decline of unions, employers still have the upper hand in pay negotiations despite the tight labor market.

Mining has added 53,000 jobs over the past year; Trump campaigned on ending “the war on coal”. But compare that with healthcare, where there are many low-paid jobs, which has added 302,000 jobs.

The proof is in workers’ pockets. October’s job report showed wages growing at an annual rate of 3.1%, the highest rate since 2009, but still well below the 4.2% average right before the 2001 recession.

Wages are recovering - but slowly

Stock markets

Trump has tweeted about stock markets 67 times – more than 10 times the number of tweets that mention his daughter Tiffany.

Under his presidency the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq have all hit record highs, growth fuelled by his $1.5tn tax breaks, aggressive deregulation and a buoyant global economy.

Now he is worried. As the Federal Reserve raises rates, stock markets are wobbling, and Trump has publicly attacked the Fed, an unprecedented move for a sitting president. China’s growth is stalling, Europe once more looks like it is heading for trouble, some economists are predicting a recession next year.

The Dow has hit record highs under Trump

And perhaps Trump should be worried about where those stock market gains have actually gone. The top 10% of American households owned 84% of all stocks in 2016, according to a paper by the NYU economist Edward Wolff. That includes all the equities the bottom 90% hold in 401k retirement savings, university funds and other investments.

So while stock markets have boomed, the benefit has gone disproportionately to the wealthy. This isn’t the housing boom, which boosted the wealth of many middle-income Americans, while it lasted. But if stock markets do fall, which they inevitably will, the bottom 90% are likely to feel it first as corporations cut staff to trim their costs to appease the shareholders who have already done so well.

Trade

Trade wars are “good and easy to win” Trump declared in March before taking on all of the US’s largest trading partners in the largest trade dispute in a generation.

To be fair to the president, the trade issue has not – yet – been as catastrophic as many predicted. And Canada and Mexico, the US’s largest trade partners behind China, are now at the negotiating table and working towards a new deal. But China is a different matter. Relations appear to be worsening. And the EU, having called a ceasefire in July, is still bristling and has taken its dispute to the World Trade Organization.

Talking to business leaders in the US, it is obvious that what they dislike the most about Trump’s trade policy is the uncertainty. Caterpillar, a bellwether of the manufacturing sector, warned earlier this month that Trump’s tariffs had raised its costs. Cheese makers in Wisconsin, the US’s dairy capital, are pleased that Canada is negotiating on imports but worried that the EU has taken advantage during the dispute and that talks could break down.

The trade disputes may be on pause now, as the midterms draw to a close, but they are far from over. And the US under Trump has emerged not only as a bastion of protectionism after decades of extolling free trade but also a place where policy can be rewritten by a tweet.

Taxes

Trump’s $1.5tn tax break is the single largest policy achievement of his presidency – and yet the Republicans are barely mentioning it in the run-up to the election. Most of the cuts went to business and the rich and polling shows voters now trust Trump less on tax reform than they did before the bill was passed.

Clearly aware that his initial tax package has bombed with hoi polloi Trump has now proposed “a 10% tax cut for middle-income families … no business”. The proposal doesn’t seem to have much substance. The last tax cut helped push the Federal deficit to $1tn and even Republicans who have decided that deficits don’t matter, after years of believing the opposite, may balk at increasing it more. But it does acknowledge that politically for the average American a tax plan that Trump called “a bill for the middle class” hasn’t worked.

It is time for undecided voters to come off the fence but it is too early to truly assess Trump’s record on the economy. Trade disputes are ongoing, the long-term impact of tax cuts is still being assessed. So this election cycle, whether voters feel sick of winning or sick of Trump, is likely to be decided by their political leanings rather than the economy. By 2020 we will have a clearer assessment of Trump’s legacy and we will know who is really winning.

Friday
Nov022018

Hospitality Tax a Vote for Economic Development

Note: Minor update reflects news leading up to the election.

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

A hospitality tax in the unicorporated areas of Anderson County is long overdue. With the issue on the ballot Tuesday, Anderson County's Chamber of Commerce and United Way have pused for the tax, while the county's Republican party has oppsed it. Reasons for the opposition are vague and generally obfuscate the facts surrounding what the hospitality tax is and how it will be used.

Meanwhile, the county struggles to compete when it comes to tourism and reacreation opportunities.

Last year, Spartanburg County’s two percent hospitality tax generated $4.7 million for recreation and tourism. In the City of Anderson, the tax put almost $2.5 million on the books. 

Meanwhile, Anderson County’s unincorporated areas, which include, month other areas, the restaurants at Exit 19 off I-85 and Powdersville. Many of the county’s municipalities and townships already have the tax in place and are reaping the benefits.

The two percent hospitality tax on prepared food sold in the unincorporated areas of Anderson County would generate more than $3 million per year for recreation and tourism.

On Nov. 6, Anderson County voters will have the opportunity to advise Anderson County Council on the potential for the tax in unincorporated areas of the county.  While council clearly should have already voted to approve the tax long ago, one more chance for citizens to show a little civic pride and get behind the initiative may not be the worst idea in the world.  

On social media and elsewhere, the issue is being clouded by both misunderstanding and misinformation on the funds and how they can be used. 

Funds cannot be used for roads (with exceptions), schools or other infrastructure (not related to tourism/recreation) needs in the county. State law restricts use of such funds to recreation opportunities and facilities.

Here’s the South Carolina statute on how the funds may be used: 

“The revenue generated by the hospitality tax must be used exclusively for the following purposes:

(1) tourism-related buildings including, but not limited to, civic centers, coliseums, and aquariums;

(2) tourism-related cultural, recreational, or historic facilities;

(3) beach access and renourishment;

(4) highways, roads, streets, and bridges providing access to tourist destinations;

(5) advertisements and promotions related to tourism development; or

(6) water and sewer infrastructure to serve tourism-related demand. 

Anderson County Councilman Craig Wooten has already put forth a plan for the county to hire a consultant to help delineate priorities for how to best use the funds.  

A master plan for recreation created 10 years ago, found that $10 million was needed to upgrade the 37 parks the county helps maintain. (The number of active parks is really smaller, with some parks such as Morningside Park shut down, a few being little more than small boat ramps and others lying in wait of funding) Sadly, the study came out just as the national economy took a severe downturn, and no money was available to act on the study. The 2018 study did no include Green Pond Landing or most of the work done at the Brown Road Boat Ramp/Fishing Dock. 

Opposition to tax has been primarily expressed in the following ways:

  • “Recreation in the county should be left to the private sector.” None of our neighboring counties see it that way, and neither do the companies from around the world looking for a place to locate or relocate - something essential to Anderson County since we have more international business than any other county in the state, 51 firms from 23 countries have brought good, high-paying jobs, helping us survive and pull out of the Depression of 2008. Even domestic companies rate recreation activities as very high on their punch list when choosing a location. 
  • “We want to know exactly how the money is going to be spent before we vote for the tax.” The study currently under way will answer this objection.
  • “We need to more funds roads, schools, etc.” The bulk of all county tax payer dollars goes to schools already. There is a great need for money for roads, but hospitality tax revenue cannot be used for this unless it is paving roads directly related to recreation and tourism (there will be some of these). A countywide annual $25 vehicle tax has been repeated proposed to pay for road maintenance and construction, one which would completely cover the costs. That is not part of this discussion.
  • “We should review what we are already spending on recreation and tourism and find ways to fund everything.” That review has been done, and short of raising money through taxation of landowners, the funds are simply not there. Moving them around won’t solve the deficit. 
  • “We already pay too much in taxes.” This is an emotional response lacking substance based on the facts. County taxes have seen almost no increase for taxpayers over the past 10 years due to substantial success by the county’s department of economic development, the administrator and county council.

Misinformation, due to lack of education on the topic (a fact sheet should have already been released officially by Anderson County explaining much of what is being explained here), is also still floating around from the last attempt to pass the hospitality tax in 2016.  

The tax will not:

  • Raise rates to four percent in some areas. It will not be added to the two percent already being charged in most incorporated areas, but will only be in effect in places not already covered by the tax. The move would simply put the unincorporated areas of the county in line with all other restaurants. 
  • Be some sort of slush fund for council. This is ludicrous. The tax has been discussed for years in open council meetings, and the current proposal complies with all laws and rules, with complete transparency, voted upon in open meetings.
  • Impact business in local restaurants. None of the restaurants which I talked to, two dozen at last count, which already have the hospitality tax can tell any difference on business.  Hamid Mohsseni, who owns both Carson’s Steakhouse and Tucker’s - one of which is in the city and one in the county’s unincorporated areas even though their parking lots are adjacent - said in 2016 he hasn’t seen any difference in business between the two, even though one currently has the tax and the other does not.
  • Be a burden on those with fixed incomes. Any argument saying the tax would be a burden on consumers is a little silly. It is hard to imagine anyone who can afford to dine out being unable to pay an extra two cents on every dollar spent on food. A $50 bill would bring an extra charge of only $1. In addition, more than half of the areas impacted by the new tax are places frequented largely by those who don’t live in the county. (see below for more on this information).

Why we need a hospitality tax in unincorporated areas of Anderson. County:

Anderson is already behind our neighboring counties in our approach to recreation, and it is time to catch up. The county’s recreation is currently largely the efforts of 18 non-profit groups in Anderson. The county does have facilities, the civic center, for example. But it is these local groups which fill the fields with sporting events and tournaments, putting us well behind Greenville and Spartanburg, which fund recreation through a combination of general revenue from property taxes and hospitality taxes. 

The civic center would be one of the biggest winners of the hospitality tax, but the funds generated will save property owners money long-term. Why? Because as the civic center ages and the population grows, the facilities there are going to require funding, and that money will have to come from either raising taxes on property owners or the proposed hospitality tax. I vote for the money to be generated through two cents on the dollar spent eating out rather than by raising taxes, especially when more than 60 percent of the revenue is being paid by visitors to this county. A 2010 study counting out-of-state license plates at Cracker Barrel at Exit 19 found that 72 percent of the cars entering the parking lot were from someplace other than South Carolina. A recent count at Outback on a Saturday night found that 50 percent of the cars in the parking lot were from states other than South Carolina. While this kind of study is not worthy of academic review, owners of many of the restaurants near the interstate suggest many of their customers are from other states. No matter the exact number, a significant amount of funding for recreation and tourism in Anderson County would be paid for by visitors under the hospitality tax. 

The hospitality tax is about economic development. The hospitality tax is really about economic development. Without a vision for the future of recreation in the county, there will be trouble ahead attracting the kind of new investment we want here. Hartwell Lake is an amazing resource, but one the county has only managed to take advantage in any meaningful way through federal settlement money. Green Pond’s Phase One has been a good start, but there is more to be done, and no money to do it. Roughly 90 percent of the work at Green Pond to date has been through PCB settlement money and grants. Many of our parks are in poor shape, and only three are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant (which is now law, not a suggestion). It cannot be denied that both Greenville and Spartanburg counties are aggressively marketing their recreation opportunities in economic development, especially to international firms. Two pennies on the dollar dining out could completely revolutionize our ability to compete. In less than a decade we could make our recreation and tourism opportunities a talking point, and not a sore spot, when it comes to recruiting new industry and bringing more good jobs to Anderson County.  

Local recreation needs are growing. The Powdersville area, like the county as a whole, has grown exponentially, too rapidly to keep up with the needs of the population in many areas - including recreation. As an unincorporated area, they have no other way to generate revenue. These residents deserve better, as do all the residents of Anderson County when it comes to improving and continuing to improve the quality of life here. Recreation is a key component of this quality of life. As growth continues, a hospitality tax will likely generate far more than $3 million, well above the county’s very conservative estimates, based on how much per capita the hospitality tax has generated for municipalities and townships in the other parts of the county. If there is a flaw in the county’s proposal, it’s that they are underestimating how much this new hospitality tax can accomplish both immediately and in the future. 

There are no downsides to a hospitality tax for Anderson County’s unincorporated areas. It is a crucial move for the future of economic development and for the quality of life of our citizens.

Many of the same opponents to this tax opposed the East-West Parkway, something most of them probably use every day. Anderson has a long history of missing or delaying progress due to lack of visionary leadership who thinks beyond the current fiscal quarter and seeks the path of long term financial and other investments/benefits for our citizens. The hospitality tax offers a way to help fund this future without adding to the tax burden of property owners.  

Economic development, an improved quality of life for all citizens and keeping property taxes in check; all point to the wisdom of approving the hospitality tax for unincorporated areas of Anderson County ballot in November. 

Unless those who oppose this tax can put forth a specific plan to accomplish the same goals, and so far no one has, all the meetings and opinions in the county expressing opposition are not worth much.

I hope those who love Anderson and are invested in a great future will support the need for a two percent hospitality tax in Anderson County, as we continue as one of the state’s most progressive places to work and live.