MORNING BUZZ: What's really happening with SC's economy

Posted by ADAM BEAM and ANDREW SHAIN on January 24, 2014 

— Economic forecasts are always good new-bad news.

South Carolina's tax revenue fell last month, but economists insisted Thursday that the state will meet its revenue projections.

(What that means Gov. Nikki Haley's "money tree" -- the extra state money that has shown up in recent springs -- is unclear for now.)

Here are some details of the (mostly) good news, (a little bit of) bad news and (a kind of big) unknown provided by the state's economic forecasters:

THE GOOD

Residential building permits are up in South Carolina

Home sales are trending up

Total unemployment declining

THE BAD

Why is total unemployment declining? Because more and more people have stopped looking for work:

The average manufacturing workweek in South Carolina is shrinking

And looming over the future: student loan debt

S.C. economist Robert Martin says "This is going to be the next big problem that we have."

THE UNKNOWN

Sales tax revenues

South Carolina's sale tax revenue usually gets a big boost at Christmas.

But with Thanksgiving coming so late in 2013, it shortened the holiday shopping season by one week.

And the cold, rainy weather might have convinced people to shop online, where South Carolina doesn't collect sales taxes.

Lee Bright's gun giveaway

U.S. Senate hopeful Lee Bright says he loves guns, and he figures a few of his supporters love them, too.

So the Republican state senator from Spartanburg challenging Lindsey Graham sent an email Thursday to supporters offering to give away an AR-15 military-style assault rifle (retail value about $700).

Bright used gun-control efforts in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that killed 20 children and six adults to emphasize his support for guns rights.

The Newtown connection did not sit well with everybody.

S.C. Republican strategist Wesley Donehue fired off several tweets about Bright's giveaway, saying at one point: "(T)hat's the kind of dumb (manure) that makes us look crazy and helps elect liberals like Barack Obama."

...And a .38 for dessert

South Carolinians licensed to carry concealed firearms soon can take their guns into bars and restaurants as long as they do not drink.

The S.C. House passed the bill overwhelmingly Thursday. The senate approved the measure this month.

The bill takes effect with Gov. Nikki Haley's signature. Her office said she "will sign any bill that doesn’t restrict the rights of gun owners."

Supporters said the bill's penalties including jail time and losing a concealed weapons permit for five years will act as a deterrent. Bars and restaurants, like other businesses, can ban concealed weapons.

Who's going to pay for state health-plan hikes?

The state health plan needs an extra $83 million to keep up with the rising costs of health care. But the question before S.C. lawmakers is who will pay that cost? Taxpayers, state workers or both?

House lawmakers heard several options from the Public Employee Benefit Authority, including premium increases and benefit changes. They also heard about a new health plan with a high deductible and a health savings account option that would make the state health plan compliant with the federal Affordable Care Act by offering a wide array of preventative coverage.

“I don’t like the choices,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, chairman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees the state health plan. “It is very difficult to balance picking up the added expense of health care when (state workers) also want pay increases.”

First in the South guaranteed

South Carolina -- along with Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada -- would stay first in line for GOP presidential primaries in 2016 with a Republican National Committee vote expected today.

S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore says smaller states allow underfunded and upstart candidates a chance to gain a foothold in the race.

Later this year, the RNC is expected to move its 2016 national convention to late June or early July, so the nominee to access millions of dollars of general election cash sooner.

The party also wants to shrink the number of presidential debates and exercise more control over the moderators.

The pioneer in school choice

Could Evan Cobb be the Neil Armstrong of school choice in South Carolina?

The 11-year-old from Greer toted a big $5,000 check around the State House on Thursday as the first recipient of the state's private-school choice scholarship program for children with special needs.

The General Assembly passed a new tax credit last year for donations to scholarships that aid special needs kids -- seen as opening to start offering school choice in the state.

Buzz clicks

Is Lindsey conservative enough?: S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore needed three tries in answering an anchor's questions if U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, was electable and conservative enough for South Carolina voters. Full story

"Maybe, we can save someone else’s brother": Victims' families, police chiefs, bail bondsmen and victims’ advocates urged a S.C. House subcommittee to pass S.19, which would make it tougher for suspects arrested on multiple violent crimes to be released while awaiting trial. Full story

Water bill introduced: A state senator introduced legislation Thursday to restrict mega-farms from siphoning large amounts of water from rivers. Full story

Flu season turns deadlier: The flu season has grown increasingly deadly in South Carolina in recent weeks, with 11 flu-related deaths logged in the week ending Jan. 18. Those 11 deaths brought the total for the season (which starts in late September) to 41, according to the latest statistics released by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Full story

Half dozen now in school race: Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly, a Republican, will try to run for the state superintendent of education for a third time. Full story

The State House IHOP reopens: The pancakes are back on Assembly Street across from the State House – served on shiny new plates in a modern building. Full story

Gov. Nikki Haley's public schedule today

• 1 p.m.: Attend Greer Inland Port Opening Reception in Greer

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