2015 is gone.
But out of the losses, what will rise?
The year saw a murder-suicide rock the University of South Carolina campus, the Legislature fail to address the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, police officers shoot unarmed men, a gunman kill nine parishioners who had welcomed him, a long-divisive banner finally furled, a long-sought savior give up and quit, and historic rains cause historic damage.
But there were uplifting moments, too.
Relatives forgave the gunman, teaching a nation – once again – the meaning of amazing grace. USC’s women’s basketball team made the Final 4. So, too, did Clemson’s football team.
Now comes 2016.
The losses of 2015 must be addressed. What – if anything – can be done about mad gunmen? Failed leaders? Age-old divisions? Flood damage?
And can those bright spots grow even brighter?
Making South Carolina stronger in 2016 will be about rising from the ruins to address challenges, improving the state and our lives.
Those who stood in that Charleston courtroom and the volunteers who risked their lives to save flood victims they did not even know show the strength of South Carolina’s character.
They showed what can be done when heart combines with will.
Now, in 2016, we must, too.
The role, training and transparency of police officers is sure to make news
We could spend much time in 2016 in South Carolina restoring the sense that police protect.
We face at least two trials – of former North Charleston officer Michael Slager and former state trooper Sean Groubert, who was working in Columbia. In both cases, a white law officer was caught on video shooting a seemingly non-threatening African-American. A third law officer’s fatal shooting of a teen that was captured on video in Seneca is being hotly debated.
How does police training change in the wake of this?
And how does training and the use of resource police officers in public schools change in the wake of the violent arrest of a Spring Valley High School student by a Richland County deputy?
Meanwhile, having decided – conceptually – to employ body cameras, do we decide how to pay for them? Will we be transparent in releasing body-cam videos, especially when the law does not require them to be released?
And what about funding for police agencies, particularly smaller ones, to ensure that all police cars have dash cameras?
For years, police have been given the benefit of the doubt in shooting situations. But in the wake of citizen videos that sometimes tell a different story from the official version, has public consciousness shifted so that now it’s the cops who have to prove their version of events is correct?
Repairing dams, recovering from the flood will dominate 2016
It will be quite some time before many people repair their lives after October’s devastating rainfall and floods.
For state and local governments, repairing dams and roads, especially, will be an ongoing priority.
South Carolina can expect continued efforts to tighten the state’s dam safety laws and provide money for more inspectors after the failure of more than three dozen state-regulated dams.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says it wants to double the size of its dam safety staff, with $595,000 in extra funding for fiscal year 2016-2017. At the same time, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, has filed legislation to toughen dam safety laws, which could swell the DHEC funding request to more than $1 million.
DHEC and the state have been heavily criticized by those who say better oversight of dams could have helped prevent some failures that flooded property and took lives downstream. Lawsuits already have been filed by downstream property owners against upstream dam owners. Studies analyzing what caused the failures should be forthcoming in 2016.
Meanwhile, it will take an estimated $100 million to rebuild the flood-damaged Columbia Canal, the city’s primary water source for the downtown treatment plant that supplies water to about 188,000 customers. FEMA might pay 75 percent of that.
Another huge cost will be repairing S.C. roads and bridges. That will cost $137 million, with the state paying $49 million.
Statewide, flood losses are pushing $1.5 billion, including $587 million in agricultural losses, $181 million in insurance claims and $35 million in tourism losses. The floods will cost the state an estimated $114 million, according to Gov. Nikki Haley, with the federal government paying an additional $493 million.
Sammy Fretwell, Clif LeBlanc
The onslaught of college students, Part 2
It’s what city planners dream of – hordes of young people and their disposable income crowding their downtowns.
That’s exactly what’s happening in downtown Columbia.
An estimated 5,100 University of South Carolina students will have descended on downtown by the start of classes this fall. They are drawn there by massive student housing projects that seem more resorts than dormitories.
They are being joined increasingly by young professionals in market-rate apartment buildings, many in the Main Street area.
Expect that to continue, with even more student housing projects coming on line, as USC plans to grow its student body by 15 percent each of the next several years.
Already, another student housing project – this one with 234 units – has been announced for the BullStreet project on the old State Hospital grounds, and developers have announced 275 market-rate apartments in BullStreet’s proposed retail area.
One developer is even planning high rise apartment buildings on top of existing parking garages.
The city’s planners are smiling. But how will we keep late-night revelers, pedestrians and moped riders safe? And what will this young influx bring to downtown’s milieu?
How many are coming?
Seven market-rate or student-driven apartment complexes will open in downtown Columbia thoughout 2016, adding at least 2,372 new residents downtown. The total will be higher, as some projects have announced only the number of units, not beds.
As city grows, Columbia’s affordable housing needs grow, too
Private investment is flooding downtown Columbia with housing developments targeted at students, young professionals and empty-nesters. But that influx has real potential to further widen the gap between what the rental market charges and what a significant portion of Columbia’s workforce can pay.
Already, more than half of Columbia renters are considered housing-cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income to have a place to live.
Now, with the floods of October displacing hundreds and compromising the area’s affordable housing supply, Columbia’s already substantial affordable housing needs have intensified.
Any movement toward solutions will require not just support and action from developers and policymakers, but a public attitude shift to embrace the notion of affordable living options available to an economically diverse population.
Will City Council approve inclusionary zoning – requiring developers of new properties to include a certain number of units that are more affordable? How about incentives for doing that? Or an opt-out fee that would go toward building affordable housing elsewhere?
Renting at market rate
The cost of a 2-bedroom apartment is continually going up in Columbia
2016 fair market rent two-bedroom unit: $806
2015 fair market rent two-bedroom unit: $778
Key 2016 dates for local news in the Midlands
Deadline, by midnight, for South Carolina flood victims to apply for federal disaster assistance from FEMA following October’s floods. Applicants have 60 days to appeal denial letters. As of Dec. 23, 97,000 people had filed.
The Fireflies, Columbia’s fledgling minor league baseball team, are set to play their first game in the city’s new 8,000-seat, $37 million Spirit Communications Park. The season starts April 7 in Charleston.
Scheduled release date from federal prison for former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to harbor two illegal immigrants at the county jail. However, he is likely to get out earlier.
Court date for the state trial of Dylann Roof, charged with nine counts of murder in the June 17 slaying of parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, although the start date is likely to be postponed.
Election date for County Council, school board and countywide elected offices, plus the proposed referendum on the penny sales tax for roads in Lexington County. Party primaries for partisan races are June 14.
Opening of the Saluda River portion of the Three Rivers Greenway, which stretches from the I-26 river overpass near Lexington Medical Center past Riverbanks Zoo to just shy of the Columbia Canal.
The year ahead in politics, government
S.C. Republicans and Democrats head to the polls on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27, respectively, to cast ballots in their parties’ first-in-the-South presidential primaries. The Democratic primary will offer the first true test of presidential candidates’ appeal to African-American voters, who make up a large part of the party’s S.C. base. Republicans either will go rogue again, voting for a populist presidential candidate, or recover their reputation for picking the party’s nominee. (Or they could do both.)
Scott seeks his own term
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, is expected to run for re-election in 2016. The only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate, Scott was appointed to the seat in late 2012 after Jim DeMint resigned to run a conservative think tank. Scott, the state’s most popular pol, won a special election in 2014 to complete DeMint’s six-year term. Now, he must seek his own term on Nov. 8. Do S.C. Democrats even field a candidate?
Do retirements reshape Senate?
S.C. senators, who hold four-year terms, are up for re-election this year, along with their counterparts in the S.C. House. Some senators – Joel Lourie, D-Richland, and Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown – already have said they will not seek re-election. Open seats and challenges could continue reshaping the state Senate, led by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, giving an opportunity for more women or tea party libertarians to gain more power in the General Assembly’s upper chamber.
Abortion restriction could pass
A bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later – fewer than 30 abortions a year in South Carolina – passed the state House and Senate last year. But the chambers disagree over whether to include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. If lawmakers can iron out the differences – and avoid a filibuster – the bill could pass fairly early in the legislative session.
S.C. State: How much more?
S.C. State University’s finances have improved since lawmakers replaced its trustees last year. But the state’s only public historically black college needs more state money to keep its accreditation and stay open, the school’s board chairman has said. Chairman Charlie Way stopping short of asking a legislative panel to forgive $18 million in state loans to the college. But he said a portion of the loans – $12 million – was viewed as a financial drag on the Orangeburg school by accreditors, threatening access to federal loans for its students.
Colleges want other symbols gone
After lawmakers removed the Confederate flag from the State House grounds last year, S.C. college campuses want to remove a Confederate banner and rename buildings. But that requires legislative approval. Leaders at The Citadel want to remove a Confederate banner from a campus chapel, and some Clemson and Winthrop students and alumni want to remove the name of Ben Tillman – a white supremacist, lynching advocate and former S.C. governor and U.S. senator – from campus buildings. However, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, has vowed not to address any other historical monuments or memorials.
Worse than having no money?
Economic advisers added $1.2 billion to the general fund that lawmakers will have to spend in the state budget that begins July 1. That money sets up a fight for the added money. Flood relief? Roads repairs? Rural schools? State agency needs? The week of Feb. 15, the House Ways and Means Committee plans to unveil the first draft of its budget, which will indicate spending priorities of lawmakers.
Cassie Cope, Jamie Self, Andrew Shain
These are the key political dates ahead
Jan. 12: Legislative session begins
Jan. 14: GOP presidential debate in Charleston
Jan. 17: Democratic presidential debate in Charleston
Feb. 13: GOP debate in Greenville
Feb. 15: House budget-writing committee produces first version of state budget taking effect July 1
Feb. 20: S.C. GOP presidential primary
Feb. 27: S.C. Democratic presidential primary
March 16-30: Candidate filing for June primaries
June 2: Scheduled end of legislative session
June 14: Primaries for state Legislature, U.S. Senate and House
June 28: Runoffs
Nov. 8: Election Day
Tougher restrictions on guns likely to go nowhere
Democrats pushing gun control measures after Emanuel 9 massacre. Proposals include ban on assault weapons, requiring background checks be completed. S.C. Democratic lawmakers are pushing for tougher gun control measures after nine African-Americans were shot and killed during a Bible study in a Charleston church.
But those efforts are not likely to gain much traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Legislative bills pre-filed in December range in from a proposed ban on assault weapons to requiring gun owners to register their firearms to mandating that lost or stolen weapons must be reported to authorities.
Several proposals attempt to address a loophole in federal law that allows some S.C. gun purchasers to buy and take home a gun before a background check has been completed – if that review takes longer than three days.
That rule, and errors in the federal background-checking system, allowed Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston church shooter, to buy a gun.
Will SC lawmakers fix our roads?
South Carolina lawmakers, who will return this month to Columbia, must decide whether to send more money to the state Transportation Department to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
Early on, senators will be tasked with deciding whether to approve a proposal to increase the state gas tax and other driving fees to create a recurring revenue stream for road repairs.
Senators must agree on how much to increase taxes, whether to use state surpluses on roads and whether to pass an income tax cut, a priority of Gov. Nikki Haley, who could veto any proposal that she does not like.
In addition, many lawmakers argue the structure of the Transportation Department must be changed, giving the governor control, before any more money is sent to the roads agency.
If senators reach an agreement, their proposal must go back to the S.C. House, which last year passed a 10-cent-a-gallon increase to the gas tax and raised the sales tax cap on vehicles from $300 to $500.
October’s flooding, which knocked out 541 roads at one point, highlighted the poor condition of the state’s roads, estimated to cost $30 billion to fix over the next 30 years. But opponents of a tax hike say a $1.2 billion budget surplus means the state can afford to repair roads without raising taxes.
A boom in downtown student housing will continue to cause a ripple affect across downtown Columbia in 2016.
Having 800 students in the 21-story former Palmetto Center — a development called The Hub — helped take Main Street's comeback to new levels.
An estimated 5,100 student living in student housing complexes across downtown have amped up development in the Vista, where eight new restaurants have opened since the October flood.
BullStreet is slowly filling up with 125,000 square feet of office space now being built, and an 85-store retail center is expected to start coming out of the ground next year. Developers say that the students — with their parents credit cards — are a big part of their business model.
But downtown isn't the only local area growing.
Harbison has finally attracted the Holy Grail of big box retail — a Costco — which is being constructed on Piney Grove Road.
And growth in the Northeast is driving Killian Road to become the new “auto mile” with 12 automobile brands.
Important dates ahead for Columbia development
South Carolina Chamber of Commerce holds “Business Speaks,” which includes a session with some Senate and House members about issues important to South CarolinRMa businesses.
Workforce Development Symposium sponsored by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, state Department of Employment and Workforce and the State Workforce Development Board. Held at the Columbia Marriott on Hampton St.
Federal Reserve Board meets and may consider another interest rate hike. If so, it might signal a series of hikes throughout 2016.
Chester County officials say an announcement is expected in February or March for a $1.6 billion manufacturing facility that might employ up to 1,400 people.
Columbia Chamber’s annual gala at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. The chamber’s Ambassador of the Year is honored, and members assess the previous year.
Here’s a look at some key economic indicators in South Carolina
Residential building permits
2015 (through November) - 28,294
13.6 increase from 2014 (through November)
November 2015 - 2,024,900
2.64 percent increase from November 2014
Source: S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce; S.C. Department of Commerce
Will S.C. employment growth remain strong?
An improving economy sent South Carolina’s unemployment rate to its lowest level in 14 years in November at 5.5 percent. Several major economic development projects will near completion in 2016, which could help keep the rate low in years to come.
But at least one threat looms.
In Lancaster County, Red Ventures continues working on an expansion that will eventually double the size of its Indian Land headquarters. The marketing and technology firm, which now employs more than 2,200 people in Lancaster County, plans to add another 1,500 jobs during the next five to seven years. Part of the expansion will be completed later this year, with the complete project finished in 2017.
In Chester County, Giti Tire expects to complete its new manufacturing plant in 2017. The Singapore-based company is investing $560 million and plans to create 1,700 jobs over 10 years. Training and hiring are expected to begin this year.
In Berkeley County, Volvo has started construction on an auto manufacturing plant that is expected to generate 2,000 jobs by 2023. The company expects to begin hiring in late 2017 and to open the plant in 2018.
Meanwhile, South Carolina and other states will face uncertainty about military jobs for several years. The armed forces are shrinking after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military also faces uncertaintly because of the 2011 budget sequestration plan.
In December, the state learned 625 jobs would be lost by Oct. 1 from U.S. Army Central at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Fort Jackson in Columbia has been spared drastic cut so far – the military announced in July that 180 jobs would be cut from the Columbia Army base.
The budget deal approved by Congress and signed by President Obama late last year gives the military some relief from cuts mandated by the 2011 sequestration. But the potential for more cuts looms. The military also has pushed for another round of base closures within the next several years.
Look for local and state officials to build a case in 2016 for maintaining a strong military presence in South Carolina.
Lawmakers eye fix for SC schools
When they return to Columbia this month, state lawmakers will be working in the shadow of a S.C. Supreme Court ruling that requires improving the state’s K-12 public schools.
That ruling ordered lawmakers and impoverished, rural school districts, which had sued the state in the 1990s, to work together to fix an education system that the court said did not provide the quality education required by the state Constitution.
This fall, a state House panel came up with dozens of recommended changes, including:
▪ Giving school districts with extreme poverty about $660 more in state money for each impoverished student they educate
▪ Re-evaluating teacher salaries, a move that could lead to higher pay, including programs to attract and keep good teachers in struggling districts
▪ Establishing a low- or no-interest state construction loan program that poor districts could use to replace aging or inadequate facilities
▪ Spending more state money on school buses and creating more efficient transportation systems to cut the time students spend traveling to school, which can exceed three hours a day
▪ Increasing the authority of the S.C. Department of Education to take over struggling school districts and encouraging districts to consolidate
▪ Increasing academic performance
A panel also has been working in the Senate.
Lawmakers expect to introduce and debate legislation this year.
The questions: What will it cost? And with other causes seeking more money as well – for road and flood repairs, and tax cuts – will increased education spending be a priority?