The Nerve’s Best of 2016

December 21, 2016

Investigative Reports

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Bombastic news

We’ve got naughty covered

The Nerve began the year with a closer look at some of the numbers bandied about by very interested parties when it came to the cost of fixing the state’s roads as well as revenue from a proposed gas tax increase — a subject that’s destined to rear its splendiferous head again when the legislature convenes January 10, as it has in pre-filed bills:

“Critics contend the figure” — $1.47 billion to repair and maintain state roads — “is akin to going into a repair shop and asking for a quote to get a car on the road again and getting a price for a full restoration.”

We followed up by telling you that “the final version of legislation to fix South Carolina’s roads … is being hammered out right now in secret meetings.”

In February, we reported on the South Carolina Research Authority, asking, “Would you be surprised to learn that the legislature created a state agency in 1983 using taxpayer money that then spun-off a nonprofit business so successful it has operating revenues of $435 million in FY 2015-16 alone and whose leadership regularly receives yearly bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars?

“Would you also be surprised to know this same agency gives none of that money back to the state’s general fund, has an annual payroll of more than $11.2 million … and hasn’t been subjected to legislative oversight since 2005?”

We also took a hard look at state Department of Transportation commissioner Mike Wooten and the way his influence in office complements his private business.

That was, we said, just one more instance of the way conflicts of interest usually stay out of sight in state government. And that might have something to do with how “the real story of DOT commissioner elections, told over and over by senators and representatives … is one in which the public is as absent as the minutes.”

In March, we told you about how the roads-and-gas-tax-hike behemoth played out in the last session, rolling over but refusing to die: “While it’s a good sign that citizens were able to force senators to remove a massive tax hike (first proposed by Governor Haley and then passed by the House), what the senate ultimately passed leaves the corrupt transportation system largely intact.”

We also detailed USC’s spending of millions for software it already had, for dubious reasons, and followed up with the tale of “Beach houses, pyramid schemes, mismanagement” riddling that $80 million program.

And then there was the IBM arrangement: Did the company deserve a no-bid, $70 million contract with USC? When looking for answers as to how that happened, we’d have been remiss if we hadn’t mentioned the senator from Florence.

In April, we gave you the sad story of kickbacks, corruption and abuse at the Richland Recreation Commission. Investigations by state and local law enforcement and the FBI followed as well as an indictment and more, all detailed in the update on the story.

We got cracking in May with a report on the millions in state funds that have flowed to the concrete business of that senator from Florence.

We also noted with pleasure that USC had undertaken an investigation of its software procurement following our reporting.

You might get the feeling that we just can’t be satisfied. And you’d be right, because in June we noted that even meaningless laws are aggravating. What, we asked, did House Bill 496, passed by the House and signed by the governor, actually do?

“That’s the interesting part. It doesn’t actually do anything. If we’re going to personify the legislation, it would be more accurate to say the bill wishes or gestures or maybe emotes. But it does nothing.”

In July, we caught legislators interpreting the law as well, which was enough to make a legislative chamber seem just like a hall of mirrors: “‘We deem this bill to be constitutional,’ says bill about itself.”

In August, we detailed ways that former legislators and legislative aides went on to top-salaried state jobs. And we explained how two lawmakers overruled everyone to get a stadium financed for Coastal Carolina University.

Then there was the matter of the state sales tax. In September, we showed you how it actually exempted more than it taxed.

In October, we demonstrated that lawmakers were ignoring the budget law, that the Ports Authority spent more than $90 million in the vaguest of ways, and that the state’s actual budget is much larger than it claims.

In November, we had the story of the constitutional amendment that wasn’t, which brought to light real consequences for succession to the office of lieutenant governor when Governor Nikki Haley leaves as expected to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. (While many state senators tried to figure out whom besides themselves they could blame for the fiasco, one had the rare sense to ask the state supreme court to have a go at what we hope is a remedy.)

December brought the indictment of Representative Jim Merrill, accused of mixing private business with public service. That gave us a perfect opportunity to remind you — especially if you happen to have subpoena and police power — that this kind of thing goes on all the time around the South Carolina statehouse. And so we close out 2016 with the sneaking suspicion that 2017 will be just as productive — at least for us in covering what’s naughty.