Columns article posted by SC Press Association on July 31st, 2015
By Phil Noble
Fifty years ago this week, with the stroke of a pen President Lyndon Johnson radically changed the lives of millions of Americans for the better when he signed Medicare into law.
Now, with the stroke of a pen, Gov. Nikki Haley could radically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians for the better by signing the expansion of Medicaid into law.
She won’t do it.
Since the days of President Franklin Roosevelt, government provision of health care has been an enduring and controversial subject in American politics and society. The most recent installment (though surely not the last) of this national debate was about Obamacare. There were many provisions and facets of the debate, and the rhetoric was often extreme and vitriolic. Nothing new there.
First, President Lyndon Johnson and the facts. A divided Congress passed Medicare legislation in 1965. The language and scare tactics of the public and political debate are familiar – “It’s socialized medicine…this is big government taking over health care… we can’t afford the cost… it’s just another welfare program for people who live off the government’…and on and on it went.
Fifty years later, according to an authoritative study by The Commonwealth Fund, these are the facts:
- Before Medicare, 48% of Americans 65 and older had no health insurance; today that figure is just 2%.
- In 1966, older Americans paid 56% of health care cost out of their own pocket, today it’s 13%.
- With adequate access to health care, Medicare has contributed to a five year increase in life expectancy.
- Today, Medicare covers 55 million Americans, about 17% of the population.
- Its beneficiaries are the nation’s oldest, sickest, and most disabled citizens. Nearly 30% of the beneficiaries are either over aged 85 or disabled and under 65 years old.
One can find some people somewhere who today oppose Medicare but the reality is that they number very few – and they are on the radical fringe of politics. Medicare has become woven into the fabric of American life and is a vital part of our society.
Next, Gov Nikki Haley and the facts. A key part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to make health care available to all Americans was expansion of Medicaid, i.e. the government insurance program for people of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care. Unlike Medicare which is a federally run program, Medicaid is administered by the states and many of the rules and regulations are different from state to state.
The Obamacare provisions expanded eligibility for Medicaid to those whose income is below 138% of federal poverty levels ($32,913 for a family of four) but states were not required to expand their coverage. This is where the current bitter partisan politics raised its ugly head.
As a part of the Republican sound and fury against the evils of Obamacare, many Republican state governors – Gov. Haley foremost among them – refused to take the federal funds available to expand Medicaid in their states. Their two principal talking points were ‘socialized medicine’, etc. (see above from 1965) and the claim that the states could not afford to pay their 10% share of the cost (more on cost below). So, here are the facts on Medicaid expansion in South Carolina:
- With expansion, nearly 200,000 working South Carolinians who are not covered by their employers would receive health care coverage.
- Over the next five years, expansion would inject more than $10 billion in federal funds into our state’s economy.
- This money will create up to 40,000 new jobs – not only in direct healthcare jobs but in many spin-off fields as well all across the state.
A few points about these big numbers are worth noting. First, if we don’t take the money, it goes to some other states; our refusal will not decrease our taxes one penny. Forty thousand jobs is a lot of jobs and they will be spread all over the state. By comparison, Volvo (who got $200 million in state incentives) will only provide 2,000 jobs now and perhaps as many as 4,000 by 2030. Volvo is great; Medicaid expansion is even better.
The prime argument of the critics of Medicaid expansion is that the state will eventually have to pay 10% of the cost of expansion. Fair enough, but the state’s hospital association has said that they will pick up some or all of this additional cost and there are a lot of other reasons why it’s still a very good deal. Put up $1, get $9 back…
Perhaps most compelling is that Republican governors in 13 states have supported their state’s Medicaid expansion in one form or another.
In time, we will most likely have some version of Medicaid expansion in all 50 states – and at some point after that, like Medicare before it, Medicaid expansion will become part of the fabric of American life.
Back when the Obamacare debate was at its hottest, one rabid Tea Party protester I saw on television was waving a sign that read, “Keep your government hands off of my Medicare.”
Fast forward a few years, past all the hot and shrill rhetoric, and expect to see signs reading “Keep your government hands off my Obamacare.”
I look forward to that day.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform, email@example.com www.SCNewDemocrats.org
Columns article posted by SC Press Association on July 27th, 2015
by Phil Noble
What’s your favorite pet: dog or cat? What do you prefer on your hot dog: mustard or ketchup? Who do you like for president: Hillary or Jeb?
These are the types of polls that constantly bombard us in news reports most every day. Some are amusing and a few are mildly interesting, but rarely do they tell us anything important about big issues and how we as a county are changing and evolving.
Greg Schneiders is a friend of mine in Washington and he is a pollster with a firm called Prime Group. Greg is not the type of pollster who asks about dogs and cats or mustard and ketchup. He looks at big ideas and national trends that measure not just what people think today, but how does change occur over long periods of time. One of his important findings is that big changes are happening in our society at a much quicker pace than in the past. A few examples:
Women’s movement – Although women had been voting in some state and local elections in the US as early as 1869, the US Constitutional amendment giving all women the right to vote did not pass until 1920 and the larger women’s movement did not really reach fruition until the 1970’s or 80’s – a period of 50 or 60 years.
Civil Rights – The modern civil rights movement essentially began with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 that was led by an unknown 26 year old Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King. Less than ten years later, this obscure preacher had won the Nobel Peace prize and the civil rights movement had revolutionized America. From the Boycott to King’s death was only 13 years.
Marriage Equality – The first stirring of the gay rights movement began in 1969 with the Stonewall Inn riots when this New York City gay bar was raided by police. The next year the first gay pride parades were held in several cities around the country. In 2004, 35 years later, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage. Within ten years, the US Supreme Court ruled it was the law of the land – 10 years.
Each of these were big changes that happened fast. And in each case, the time period for this change was dramatically reduced. Part of what makes this so interesting is we are talking about big, broad, deep and personal social change – or cultural change if you will. And the folks who study such things tell us that social change is the hardest type of change to achieve.
Well, you may say, all of this is interesting but what the heck does it have to do with us in South Carolina?
Consider two recent social issues in South Carolina: marriage equality and the Confederate flag.
On Nov. 19 of last year – 7 months before the US Supreme court ruling — Kristin Anderson and Kayla Bennett became the first legally married same sex couple in South Carolina.
On June 17, of this year there was the tragic shooting of the Emanuel Nine that riveted the attention of the state, nation and the world. In less than a month, the Confederate flag was gone from the statehouse in Columbia; Alabama and other Southern states followed and Wal-Mart, eBay and most American retailers said they would no longer sell the flag and related materials. All this in less than 30 days.
How you or I feel about these issues is really not the point….the point is that most all would agree that this is radical change that it happened very fast.
So, back to the question of what does this have to do with South Carolina? I think there are three broad lessons for all of us:
First, we need leaders that are comfortable with change. The old days of having some well-meaning local yokel leader who has hardly been more than 100 miles from the place where they were born are over. National – even global — events have a local impact and we need leaders who can see what’s coming and help us understand what these changes will mean for us.
Second, we as a state need to recognize changes and use them to our benefit. One example: in SC today, large portions of our people are effectively shut out of any meaningful civic participation. Our levels of women in elected office are abysmal; 28% of our people are African Americans and their talents and abilities are grossly underutilized; huge numbers of new South Carolinians, people who move here from other parts of the country, too often feel unwelcome and isolated from civic participation. We need everyone.
Third, we need to reaffirm our positive core values. After the Charleston shooting, we showed the best of who we are. We came together with a common bond of compassion and shared humanity. Other cities that had experienced similar racial incidents came apart – Charleston and South Carolina came together.
The world is changing radically and rapidly and if we as a state can call on our innate strengths, the talents of everyone and our best values – we can be every bit as great as we want to be.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. firstname.lastname@example.org www.SCNewDemocrats.org
Columns article posted by SC Press Association on July 17th, 2015
by Phil Noble
There is nothing – absolutely nothing – more important to the future of our state than fixing education. And as a result of the Abbeville case, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to fix it. The question is will we?
The Abbeville case began over 21 years ago when nearly half of the state’s school districts – the poorest in the state – challenged how our schools were funded. Finally, the state Supreme Court told the Legislature: “fix it.” In the coming months the issues of how it will, or won’t, be fixed will be decided. Dr. Holley Ulbrich of the Strom Thurmond Institute is the state’s leading analyst on education spending and below is her analysis of what we must do. This stuff is a bit complex, but it is absolutely vital and we should all try to understand this issue.
The Abbeville decision puts the solution to funding the state’s poor districts squarely in the hands of the districts and the General Assembly. The focus is now on funding equity, although the level of funding matters too. Part of the answer to the equity problem can be found in revising the 1977 Education Finance Act (EFA) formula to address today’s funding challenges.
Under EFA, each district has a target funding amount that is the ‘base student cost’ multiplied by the number of weighted pupils. The target amount is then split between the state (average 70 percent) and the district (average 30 percent). The state pays a smaller share for districts with higher tax bases and a larger share for districts with little tax base.
While EFA had the biggest role in equalizing educational resources across rich and poor districts, it was never meant to be the sole source of state K-12 funds. Most of the other funds–Education Improvement Act (EIA, grants for transportation, and employee fringe benefits), were distributed on a per pupil basis. That did less to equalize than EFA.
Property tax relief has become an increasing part of state funds to districts, and it doesn’t consider either pupil counts or the district’s tax base. In fact, distribution of property tax relief favors wealthier districts and districts with fewer pupils. Taken together, EIA, EFA, and property tax relief account for about 75 percent of state aid to public education.
In rethinking EFA, there are three important pieces to the puzzle. The first is the level of EFA funding, which reflects base student cost. Today EFA supplies only 31 percent of state aid, compared to 49 percent in 2000, because base student cost has not kept pace with inflation. Right now it is $2,200 per pupil. Adjusted for inflation, it should be closer to $2,800.
The second puzzle piece is weighted pupils. Weights adjust the number of students based on the higher cost of students who are more expensive to serve, such as disabilities, vocational education, or gifted and talented. Recently a poverty weight was added. Low population density also affects costs in rural districts because it raises transportation costs and results in smaller schools and class sizes. A density weight would help the plaintiff districts.
The final piece of the EFA puzzle is the split between state aid and local match, which depends on the district’s tax base relative to the rest of the state. The property tax base used to be a good way to measure ability to raise local funds until 2006, when Act 388 removed homeowner property from the base for school operations. While some adjustments have been made, Act 388 has still resulted in some shift of state funds toward wealthier districts and away from poorer ones, because having more higher valued homes results in more property tax relief.
Total state aid per pupil from all sources was $5,364 in 2013, compared to $3,850 in 2000. Adjusted for inflation, state aid per pupil would have needed to be $5,507 by 2013 just to have the same purchasing power. So on average, the state was providing fewer resources per pupil in 2013 than in 2000 and sending less of it to poorer districts because more of those funds were in the form of property tax relief.
In 2007-08, the State Department of Education began to rethink how South Carolina funds public education. Revisiting the complex formula of weights, base student cost, and the local match were all up for reconsideration, with the idea of creating a simpler and fairer alternative. However, in 2008 the financial crisis hit and reform was shelved. Given the Abbeville mandate to reform education funding, the idea once again is timely and worth reviving.
The alternative that developed from those discussions was a local match that was based on how much money each district can raise by levying the same millage—say, 150 mills for school operations. The tax base no longer measures ability to raise local funds, because of fee in lieu agreements on industrial property and taking homeowner property out of the picture. This way of measuring the local contribution is easier to understand and in fact has been adopted in some form in at least 17 states.
Along with setting the required minimum mill rate (districts could levy more but not less), the state could also replace base student cost with a target dollar amount per weighted pupil . After each school district collected its share at that mill rate, the state would then add in state-funded property tax relief per pupil—Homestead, Tier I, and Act 388. Finally, the state would “top it up” to the target amount per pupil with funds currently distributed through EFA, EIA, and state grants.
Suppose District X has 2,000 (weighted) pupils and the state’s target is $11,000 per pupil. A levy of 150 mills raises $12 million, or $6,000 per pupil. The state’s contribution to that district, including property tax relief, would be $5,000 per adjusted pupil. Any taxpayer or parent can understand where the money is coming from, and if they want more for their students, the district can ley a higher mill rate.
Right now, many poor districts have really high school mill rates to meet their education obligations. School taxes are the lion’s share of local property taxes. With equalized millage these districts would have a better shot at attracting or retaining jobs and businesses.
South Carolina needs to create a way to distribute state funds that treats our children equitably, regardless of what district they live in. After that, we can argue over how high that target amount per pupil ought to be.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov, Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. email@example.com www.SCNewDemocrats.org
Opinion article posted by SC Press Association on July 14th, 2015
From The Post and Courier
If ever there was a case that illustrates why freedom of information is important, it’s that of the Emanuel Nine.
Throughout the country, observers have followed the story of the nine people murdered at Emanuel AME Church as they studied the Bible. They have read about each victim, his career, family and faith.
But on Friday, Ninth Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson put a temporary gag order on any information related to the prosecution of their alleged killer, Dylann Roof. That includes recordings of 911 calls, reports of the medical examiner and coroner, investigative reports, statements of witnesses and the suspect’s medical and mental health records.
The Post and Courier, along with the S.C. Press Association and Channel 4, has appealed his order, saying it is inconsistent with the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Of course it is.
Jay Bender, press freedom lawyer for The Post and Courier and the press association, said Judge Nicholson does not have the authority to tell the city and county law enforcement agencies what information to release.
Judge Nicholson wrote that his order was “to preserve the Defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial.” He specifically mentioned information that might impede jury selection.
But the FOIA was written with an understanding of the checks and balances woven into the judicial system. Potential jurors must submit to questioning to weed out any who are so prejudiced and unable to serve fairly. That questioning can be as extensive as necessary.
Both Charleston County and city law enforcement agencies are complying with the judge’s order. A hearing on it is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, Judge Nicholson should remember another time he tried to prevent public access to information. It was in a high-profile murder case in 2003 in Greenville County. The state Supreme Court ruled he should not have done so.
The circumstances of the Emanuel Nine trial are significantly different, but the principle is the same: The public has a right to such information unless there is “a substantial probability of prejudice from publicity that closure would prevent and [that] there’s no reasonable alternatives.”
The Supreme Court concluded in 2006 that Judge Nicholson’s order did not pass that test. Nor should the order with regard to the Roof case.
The awful shooting has opened people’s eyes and fostered racial unity. The case is a matter of compelling public interest. The more information, the better.
Besides, it’s the law.