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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.

Wednesday
Sep262018

Countywide Hospitality Tax Long Overdue

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

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.

Sunday
Sep162018

Opinion: Fizzled Storm an Opportunity for Generous Gratitude

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

As Hurricane/Tropical Storm Florence continues to fall apart as it moves away from the Anderson area, there has been more wind from complaints about the poor forecast than from the actual drizzle event that arrived here. 

Instead of complaining, Anderson should recognize the events as an opportunity to give back and to say thanks to those who were preparing for the worst. 

Reacting to warnings earlier in the week to prepare for the worst, many of our friends and neighbors now have cupboards full of non-perishable snacks that they will likely never eat. This offers an excellent opportunity to fill the cupboards at AIM as fall races toward the holiday season. They feed roughly 800 families every month, and if everyone who stocked up on food expecting to be without electricity for days would bag those groceries and take them to AIM (it’s on South Murray Ave, here’s the map), the effort and money would not be a waste, but instead a blessing for those who need a little extra help.

And while you are boxing and bagging those groceries, take a minute to give thanks to those who spend endless hours this past week preparing for the worst. The team at Anderson County Emergency Management, led by Lt. David Baker (see Friday Observer interview here), was ready to act if the storm had wrought the destruction originally forecast. The offered up-to-date information on social media about the storm, which include lists of emergency supplies and contact numbers. Working with local first responders, Duke Power crews, state agencies and other local groups, Emergency Management had plans in place to shelter, feed and rescue those in need, as well as plans to get things back to normal as soon as possible. Since the storm missed Anderson, their preparations now allow them to assist those in other parts of the state hit hardest by the hurricane/tropical depression. As part of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, we owe them a debt of gratitude, a thank you card, and maybe a dozen or so doughnuts if you really want to show your appreciation. 

Hurricanes are just plain unpredictable, said John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at NOAA's National Hurricane Center. “They're still somewhat mysterious," said. Cangialosi. "We can observe them, but we don't actually understand them to a large factor.”

What is more predictable is the way our community prepares and responds when there is a potential threat to the safety of our friends and neighbors. We have excellent people and systems in place, and for that we are blessed. 

The best way to respond is by being a blessing to others. So remember to pack up all that food you bought to weather to storm and take it to AIM this week. It’s too early to start holiday binging anyway. 

Monday
Sep102018

End the War to Honor Soldiers, Victims of 9/11 Legacy 

By Joe Quinn/NYTimes

Mr. Quinn is a United States Army veteran.

It has taken me a while to realize something.

Seventeen years ago, I saw a picture of Mohamed Atta for the first timeand my blood boiled from the sound of his voice emanating from the television, as he said over the airplane’s intercom system: “We have some planes, just stay quiet and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.” Instead, he crashed it between the 93rd and 99th floors of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

My 23-year-old brother, James, was on the 102nd floor.

Staring at that picture of Atta, I would have visions of what my brother’s final moments were like. I would envision my asthmatic brother slowly succumbing to smoke inhalation on the flat, gray corporate rug of his Cantor Fitzgerald office — trapped, climbing upward and afraid for the entire 102 minutes before the tower’s collapse. Glaring at Atta’s photo, I’d imagine my brother’s body buckling, falling, crumpling, burning, melting, and in that moment of imagination, my entire being wanted revenge against the people who did this.

So I joined the Army.

I joined the war. I deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

I learned many things but realized just one.

I learned that deploying for the second time was easier than the first, but each time it’s harder to fully come home.

I learned that I love soldiers. Nothing builds bonds more than living with a group of people in a war zone, getting shot at, not showering for months, roasting our own excrement in burn pits, cracking inappropriate jokes and serving something greater than ourselves.

I also learned how that love turns to heartache when one of those soldiers gets killed, and you pack his gear up in duffel bags to be shipped home to his wife and unborn child. I learned that another family’s losing a brother doesn’t bring my brother back.

I learned to try to live a life worthy of their sacrifice, but perhaps this is a false platitude. We’ll say, “Until Valhalla,” after hearing the news of another brother killed, but perhaps preventing more brothers from dying is just as worthy of their sacrifice.

I also learned to be father. As I hold my son Graham James in my arms tonight, I feel selfish because there are thousands of fathers who never came home to hold their children. I feel selfish because there was a father who came home from war 17 years ago to hold his child in his arms and now that child is going off to fight in the same war.

A hard lesson, but it’s still not the thing I realized.

I learned that Osama bin Laden’s strategic logic was to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country. “All that we have to do is send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘Al Qaeda,’” he said in 2004, “in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note ….” Why are we continuing to do what Bin Laden wanted all along?

But that, ultimately, was not the thing I realized.

I learned that every part of me wanted to just stay quiet with my feelings about the war because I was afraid of what people might say. It’s easier to bask in the warm embrace of “Thank you for your service” without questioning what that service was for. One way or another, we were all affected by Sept. 11, which has caused us to view the war through a distorted lens. This is why most of us won’t comment or share or at least have a dialogue about the war.

But the main reason I wanted to stay quiet is because it has embarrassingly taken me 17 years to realize something, and what I realized was this: Seventeen years ago, staring at that picture of Mohammad Atta, I wanted revenge against the people who killed my brother. But what I finally realized was that the people who killed my brother died the same day he did.

I refuse to take Atta’s orders, or Bin Laden’s. I will not “stay quiet.” End the war.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion).

Tuesday
Sep042018

Just Do It: a Good Citizen's Response to the Nike Controversy

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

So Nike has has started a new advertising campaign with Colin Kaepernick, the ex-N.F.L. quarterback who inspired a player protest movement.

Kaepernich, sidelined for more than a year after failing to get an offer from any NFL team after his protest over the county's treatment of minorities during the pre-game national athem sparked a activist movement among other players, signed the multi-year contract with Nike that makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the sports apparel company’s “Just Do It” campaign.

Nike is one of the NFL's biggest financial partners, and the ad features the face of the former quarterback emblazened with the words: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

The move will obviously anger some and please others, but a disturbing reaction among those who oppose Nike's decision is emerging which is self-serving and narrow minded.

Anyone who is not pleased with the new face of Nike can boycott, express their feeings and encourage friends and family to join them in their own chosen form of protest. It's the American way, freedom of expression, just like an NFL player taking a knee in protest before a football game. Messages are delivered an no one directlly suffers from these actions. 

But there are already reports of people burning, shredding or otherwise destroying Nike shoes and apparel across the country. Meanwhile more than half a milion people are homeless and in this country. Millions more are in dire need of necessities, such as food and clothing. 

In Anderson, the number of requests for shelter among the homeless has more than doubled since 2016. The fastest growing demand is shelter for homeless families with children.

Our veterans homes are also full of those who served our country and are now living on thin shoestring budgets in their final years. Our community has, and conitues to do special drives to help these folks meet their basic needs for hygene, clothing and regular visits to show they are not forgotten.

So, if you oppose Nike's new campaign and wish to dispose of your branded shoes or clothing, consider donating it or selling it and donation the funds to your neighbors in need.

This could be a wonderful national campaign, and it could start right here in Anderson.

Below are local groups who see to the needs of our neighbors in need.

To donate clothing, consider one of the following:

The Haven of Rest, (864) 226-6193. The Haven has an almost endless need for the men and women at their shelters and the men at the farm. You can drop the shoes/clothes off at one of their donation bins or at the headquarters downtown. Call them if you have questions.

The Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home, 864-261-6734. These veterans would love to have your Nike apparel and shoes, and the need there is growing a well.

If you choose to sell your stuff, consider giving the money to one of these groups which serves the less fortunate in our community (see full information at their websites linked below):

AIM, which provides food, job training, education, financial counseling and more while offering "A hand up, not a handout."

The Salvation Army of Anderson, which provides shelter for the homeless, job training, Boys & Girls Club activities (which includes tutoring and a variety of other services), and more. 

Meals on Wheels of Anderson, which provides daily hot meals to more than 400 senior citizens across the county. 

Clean Start Anderson, which operates witn no paid staff and provides showers, laundry facilities and job counseling to those who live on the streets or who have no place to bathe or wash their clothes.

The Cancer Association of Anderson, which provides finanacial and emotional support to our neighbors who are facing cancer. 

There are many other groups and organizations doing good things in Anderson County, but these are perhaps reaching the most people. 

The subject of this controversy, no matter what you think of his politics, has given more than $1 million to charity. Perhaps if his detractors would outgive him, this could be a real opportunity for a flashy headline to turn into a movement to connect everyone with a place they can give back to the community.

So, if you're still pondering where you come done on this issue, or if you already have strong opinions, the best way to express yourself is by asking: "What am I doing to make life better for my friends and neighbors to make Anderson County a better place?"

Many are already deeply involved, but others are not.

So, in light of this news story, and with the holidays not far away, it's time, to paraphrase Nike, "Just Do Something" to make Anderson a better place.

Monday
Sep032018

America Owes Debt of Gratitude for Fruits of Labor Unions 

Dallas Morning News Editorial

For most Americans, Labor Day is little more than a barbecue-filled, three-day weekend that marks the end of summer, the start of the school year, and good deals at big-box stores. Alas, taking time to thank the American worker for the labor that made this country great doesn’t cross many people’s minds.

So, this first Monday in September, we’d like to do just that — give a heartfelt thanks to laborers across the country, without whom none of us would have a home to live in, a street or highway to get us to and from work, or the power and basic utilities that keep America working.

We’d also like to point out that today’s workers, like those a generation after the Civil War who first proposed a Labor Day holiday, are living at the dawn of an industrial revolution with just as much potential for economic disruption and opportunity as the transformation that gave us railroads, factories and eventually the electricity and automobiles that make modern life possible.

The first Labor Day celebration was Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, and was organized by the Central Labor Union, a predecessor to today’s AFL-CIO and other unions. According to the Department of Labor, there is still a question as to who proposed the holiday. Some say it was carpenter Peter J. McGuire, a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, who first proposed a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” Others say Matthew Maguire, a machinist, came up with it.

Either way, the idea took hold and was adopted by more than 30 states before becoming an official federal holiday in 1892. The workers movements that founded Labor Day, and later the May 1 International Workers’ Day, were instrumental in the establishment of the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week and overtime pay. Indeed, today’s demands for a $15 minimum wage, along with the large body of federal and state regulations to protect workers’ safety and rights, are the legacy of 19th- and early 20th-century labor activists.

Today, at the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with miraculous breakthroughs in wireless interconnectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D manufacturing, nanotechnology and biotechnology, many workers in all sectors fear that their jobs will no longer exist in the near future. And for good reason.

A 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that “by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 percent to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories.” To address this magnitude of disruption, private and public institutions alike have to start educating and training the students and workers of today for the jobs of tomorrow.

This requires far greater digital literacy; continued skills upgrades for all workers, especially those in midcareer; a more fluid labor market, which requires better health-care options not tied to employers; and new infrastructure to support the new economy. When it comes to AI and advanced robotics, it’s important to note that someone must manufacture, market and service the machines of the future. And that “cobotics” — robots working alongside people — is already a reality in sectors as varied as manufacturing, energy production and health care.

What’s most important for workers, management and government alike is to learn from the disruption and displacement of past industrial revolutions and, as the McKinsey report urges, “embrace automation’s benefits and, at the same time, address the worker transitions brought about by these technologies.”

Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend. And give thanks for the workers who have always — and will continue to — make America great.