Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Enrollment in High-Risk Insurance Pool Starts July 1st--Act Now!

Affordable health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions will now be available to those who successfully enroll in a new high-risk insurance pool starting July 1st. Enrollment will be done through a new portal,, which will go on-line that day.

One of the features of the health care reform law passed in March was the creation of new high-risk pools that would offer standard rates to those who have been rejected for health insurance due to a pre-existing condition. Enrollees must have been without insurance for at least 6 months and have documentation that they were denied coverage.

South Carolinians will enroll in the high-risk pool being developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is called the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP). The PCIP is expected to be active starting this August. Our state is receiving $74 million under the new health care law to make premiums affordable. The program will end in January of 2014 when the new health insurance exchanges are open and insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage or increase rates due to pre-existing conditions.

Sole proprietors and other small business owners that meet the enrollment criteria should act immediately to take advantage of the PCIP. Demand for this program is expected to be very high and enrollment might be limited due to the budget.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Advice for Congress & G-20

In Toronto yesterday the 19 big-economy nations that make up the G-20 (yes, there are only 19 countries) agreed that each should try to cut their deficits in half by 2013. The day before 19 U.S. city gatherings (yes, really there were 19) brought about 3500 people together in a national discussion called “America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy”.

Our goal Saturday was also to cut the U.S. projected deficit in half. But our timeline was 2025. To do this we were given resource documents about what makes up the federal budget and spending/revenue options we could collectively support to achieve our $1.2 trillion goal.

G-20 folks, you're probably not going to make the 2013 goal and if your budgets are like the U.S. budget, the deficit will grow even faster after 20103.  Very few of our work-tables across the country could achieve our goal and we didn’t have a gazillion lobbyists working us over or trying to buy our votes. My table could only agree on cutting $998 billion.

But we did achieve some strong collective agreements that our Congress should heed.

Our Columbia site had over 700 participants, possibly the largest turnout of any of the other 18 sites, and was organized by the Central Carolina Community Foundation (CCCF). According to JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the CCCF, her organization almost passed on participating.

Internet chatter on both sides of the political spectrum had been speculating that the event was just a front for pushing conservative or progressive views on how to cut the federal deficit by 2025. In spite of the partisanship concerns, CCCF Chairman and prominent local attorney Mike Kelly saw the event as an opportunity to bring the entire community together to discuss an important issue.

Turns out, Mike was right.

Nationally, the demographics of attendees were close to census data on gender, ethnicity and household income but skewed older with far too few Hispanics.

And for the progressives in the country who were concerned that the Tea Party was going to dominate the collective budget recommendations, they either worried for nothing or did a better job of turning out their folks. Only 23% of participants called themselves “moderate”, 33% labeled themselves as right of center and, wait…….44% self-identified as left of center. (There must be a lesson in here for the mid-term elections)

This doesn’t mean that the Tea Baggers didn’t try to infiltrate the event. In Columbia, and I expect across the country, fair tax proponents turned out with literature, instructions on selling their regressive national sales tax and a successful plan on having their faux solution to the deficit at least mentioned in a summary report.

But the discussions were cordial, even congenial. Every table across the country had a mission, agree on budget cuts and increases in revenue within our collectively determined core values (which turned out to be 1-a desire to take care of today’s population while watching out for future generations, 2-placing a greater burden for reducing the deficit on those that have more ability to pay, and 3-government having some responsibility of taking care of the most valuable people.)

So what clear undisputable signals did our national discussion give to our leaders in Washington?

 62% still would like to reduce federal health care spending by an additional 5% to 15% on top of projected savings from the new health care law

 85% want to raise Social Security’s limit on taxable earnings so it covers 90% of total earnings

 85% want to reduce defense spending by 5% to 15%

 68% want to create an extra 5% tax for people earning more than $1 million a year

 64% want a carbon tax with all revenue going to deficit reduction

 61% want a securities transaction tax

One final interesting result from Saturday’s event that is an important message for all the G-20 countries, 61% believed that government should be doing more to strengthen the economy while only 25% thought it should be doing less.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gubernatorial Endorsement?

"Are you going to come out in support of Vincent Sheheen?"

That was the question raised to me yesterday in a telephone call from a friend. After all, the State Chamber re-upped on their Sheheen endorsement this week.

“No,” I said, “the Small Business Chamber doesn’t endorse candidates.”

That has been our position since I co-founded the organization ten years ago.

That policy has served us well over the years. While we side with or against elected officials on particular issues, we try to keep our efforts issue-oriented and not make permanent enemies. Well, unless it becomes obvious that the public official has absolutely no interest in our positions or having a positive relationship.

That’s eventually what happened with Governor Sanford. After he was first elected, we tried very hard to forge a positive relationship with his office. But after a few years, it became clear that Sanford had no real interest either in working with us or in taking on any initiatives to really help small business. The gloves were off from then on. But our organization still didn’t endorse his re-election opponent.

Did we make a mistake then and are we making a mistake now? I don’t think so. But we probably should have done more to check how Sanford voted in Congress, put him on the record with questions and then informed the small business community of what we found out before he was first elected Governor.

So that’s what we are going to do with both Vincent Sheheen and Nikki Haley. That is what the small businesses of this state deserve—to be informed by an organization fighting for their best interest every day. That’s what we do because we are "The Advocate of South Carolina Small Business".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Workers’ Comp Rates to Drop Big

Where was that headline 11 days ago? 

On June 10th, the S.C. Department of Insurance put out a media advisory saying that its Director, Scott Richardson, had approved an overall 9.8% decrease in worker’s compensation insurance rates (technically the cut was to something called “Loss Costs in the Voluntary Market” but I don’t want you to quit reading).

A 9.8% cut!!!!!!  In his economy this is great news for small business but I don’t know that any of our daily newspapers reported the story.

In 2005, a 32.9% hike in workers’ comp insurance was proposed, and in 2007, a 27.7% increase was put on the table.  Several South Carolina dailies reported these stories primarily because the big business organizations pushed the news as proof that reform was needed and claimant attorneys were driving up premiums.

“Blame the lawyers, not obscene insurance company profits,” they said.

But when it came time to fight these rate hikes in court, the big business organizations were nowhere to be found. 

Only The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the State Consumer Advocate went before a judge to successfully fight the proposals.  Turned out that lawyers weren’t responsible for increased costs at all – and the judge dramatically reduced the proposed rate hikes to 18.7% ( and 9.8% (  respectively.

So why did no reporter in the state pick up this very important, good news story about our businesses possibly saving big on future workers’ comp premiums?

Two reasons. 

First, there are far fewer reporters at our daily papers, as I pointed out in Monday’s blog.  This is especially true for pure business reporters.  The remaining ones simply don’t have the time to find and report every important story.  And, I hate to say this, but there might be no business reporter in South Carolina that knows enough about workers’ comp insurance to even understand how rates are determined.   I only found out about this 9.8% cut from Mike Whiteley of in Texas.

Second, big business unfortunately sets the tone for what is a business story in this state and they had no interest in pushing this good news.  A cut in insurance rates doesn’t fit their tort reform story line.   “Only by cutting lawyers’ compensation can we ever reduce insurance premiums,” they scream year after year.   Ooops.

The reality is that while some reform in the civil justice system might be needed, it isn’t the lazy, ineffective kind of simply capping damage awards and lawyer compensation.  But that’s a story for another day.

Today’s message is this:

  1. There are not enough hard news reporters at our dailies, and
  2. There’s an undeserved big business special interest influence on reporters.

Both are keeping you from really being informed – and that’s not good news. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Mainstream Media's Epic Fail: Alvin Greene and the 2010 Primary

"I think the ultimate story that…should come out here is this is a major failure on the part of the media."  - Dan Cook, Editor, Free Times, Columbia SC, in radio interview on U Need 2 Know, WOIC (1230 AM,) June 17, 2010. 
Dan nailed it.  He was talking about the real story behind the Democratic U.S. Senate primary victory of Alvin Greene.  

Very few in the print media covered the contest the way that a U.S. Senate race deserves, until of course, it was too late to inform the electorate about the qualifications of Mr. Greene and his opponent Vic Rawl.  (My focus is on the print media because I hold them to a much higher standard for reporting the news.  Most electronic news is just ripping and reading what the print media has already reported or very shallow coverage dictated by the medium itself.  Bloggers might be the only exception.)

And depending on the results of the GOP Gubernatorial runoff, Dan’s comment might apply there also. 

Candidate Nikki Haley’s entire, long campaign has been about total transparency of a legislator’s voting record and income so that the public will know who they are really representing in the General Assembly. 

She garnered 49% of the Republican primary vote on that platform.

  "I knew her to be a connected person who had access to a lot of folks and information, and in my business, that sort of information is critical to get ahead." 
- Bob Ferrell, Wilbur Smith

Now only five days before the runoff she has been exposed as playing the same good ol’boy money games she has been sanctimoniously carping about.  Several years ago the Columbia engineering firm Wilbur Smith contracted with Representative Haley for one purpose only—information.  "I knew her to be a connected person who had access to a lot of folks and information, and in my business, that sort of information is critical to get ahead,” said Bob Ferrell of Wilbur Smith. (CNN’s “Political Ticker” Blog, 6/18/10)

Representative Haley wasn’t privy to this valuable information because of her family’s clothing business or her husband’s military service or her volunteer work for her church (whichever) or PTA.  The information she had was due solely to her serving in the South Carolina General Assembly.  Period.

Huffmon, courtesy ETV
John O’Connor, a print reporter with The State, finally broke the initial story on Representative Haley that has been hiding in plain view if anyone would have had the time to look for it earlier when it might have mattered to primary voters.

Scott Huffmon, political science professor at Winthrop University, agrees.  “This could have helped tarnish Nikki’s image three months ago, but not at this point.” 

I’m not criticizing our state’s print reporters.  There simply aren’t enough of them.   

Every daily in this state – heck, across the country – has cut their hard news staff to save money. 

Brent Nelsen, unsuccessful GOP primary candidate for S.C. Superintendant of Education, spotted this problem in his contest.  

“The media need to play a more active role in sorting through candidates," notes Nelsen. "The state’s financially strapped newspapers have cut back the number of reporters writing articles and opinion columns on politics.”

Most of the hard news reporters remaining hardly have time to look behind a press release to really understand the complexities of an issue.  Being able to do real investigative reporting is probably what most aspire to, but there is no time when your editor keeps handing you more and more story assignments to turn around by press time that day.
“The media need to play a more active role in sorting through candidates." - Brent Nelsen
Our reporters have simply been beat down, grateful to still have a job and looking for that one break that can help them escape a collapsing industry.

The consequences of all this are more than just Alvin Greene and Nikki Haley; the public is missing important stories on government and business every day.  In fact, I’ll share with you one of those stories in my next blog post here at UnConflicted.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Governor's Small Biz Veto Overridden

First, the good news:

The House in action, Courtesy SCETV
The House voted Wednesday to override Governor Sanford’s Veto #14 of the Small Business Development Center’s budget and the Senate followed suit today.

The small businesses of this state greatly appreciate the House and Senate votes and send special thanks to Rep. Dwight Loftis and Rep. Anton Gunn. More about them later.

Low Profile, Major Significance
The media has so far overlooked the House vote on Veto 14 and instead has focused on the higher profile overrides that allowed funding for DHEC, technical colleges, the State Museum and others. But all of us who worked very hard to save the SBDC budget need to understand the importance of that vote because it was the first veto override the House permanently agreed to.

House Floor Play-by-Play
As the House began taking up the budget vetoes Wednesday morning, there were a lot of nervous and glum faces in the lobby, mine included. As the House voted on the electronic board, it quickly became clear that red—the color on the board indicating a vote to sustain a veto—was going to dwarf green—the color to override. Only one veto was overridden out of the first 13 but even that one was quickly reversed.

I was not optimistic.

Every sports fan knows that when your team is being routed, something needs to happen to break the momentum of the game. Most often the easiest thing to do is call a timeout and refocus the attitude of the players.

Skelton's Word of Caution
With the House clearly in the mood to sustain Sanford’s vetoes (see The State newspaper's blog updates from Tuesday), Representative B.R. Skelton (R-Pickens) took the podium just before Veto 11 and urged his fellow members to consider the consequences of their votes. He cautioned the body that the next several votes involved critical elements of economic development for the state.

Smith (D)
Following Mr. Skelton to the podium was Representative James Smith (D-Richland) who chastised the House for sustaining vetoes dealing with education, healthcare and clean rivers funding yet overriding a veto for money going to consultants (the House immediately reconsidered that vote and the board quickly switched to red). Mr. Smith joined Mr. Skelton in calling for more thoughtful voting.

Several more votes lit up the board to sustain and then it was time for #14. Good fortune struck. The mood was still red but the House’s attention was diverted to deal with a non-budget bill.

Veto 14 was now up for a vote.

Loftis (R)
Loftis Goes for the Green
Representative Dwight Loftis (R-Greenville) took to the podium. Mr. Loftis has been a supporter of small business, and earlier I had asked if he would have my letter arguing for keeping the funds for the SBDC placed on each member’s desk.

He not only agreed to do that but also said that he would speak in favor of an override vote. And that he did, eloquently stating the case for maintaining the budget for the only state agency providing direct and tangible services to our small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Gunn (D)
Gunning for the Override
Following Mr. Loftis to the podium was an old friend and advocate for small business, Representative Anton Gunn (D-Richland). He too cited the benefits of the SBDC telling of his own family’s use of their services.

The red spell had been broken, and the message of support for our small businesses and economic development took hold. Green lit up the board 102 times to only 15 reds—an amazing turnaround (just look at blogger Brad Warthen's exchange with House Majority leader Kenny Bingham on June 13, 2010.)

A Shift in Momentum
Sure, the House sustained many more vetoes (see FitsNews) after that crucial vote. But the momentum had been altered. It was OK to push green when merited. Lighting did not strike. No electric shock came with pressing the button. Even GOP Gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley voted green with us.

It was clear that not every Sanford veto was justified. The Governor had made errors in judgment and the House not only had the power, it had the responsibility for the good of the State to say so. And it did.

Thanks to all who contacted their House and Senate members asking for an override of Veto #14. All the efforts paid off.

And thanks to the members of the Legislature for doing the right thing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mark Sanford: The Faux Small Business Governor

When Mark Sanford ran the first time for Governor, he promised to be the best friend of small business. Everything was about how he was going to help small business in this state grow and prosper.

We at the Small Business Chamber tried to work with his office for several years. But it always was Sanford’s way to help small business or nothing. And of course Sanford’s idea of helping small business turned out to be the same plan he gave for solving all problems—cut state spending and give him more authority over all state agencies.

As you can read in my blog about my friend Tim Wilkes, Sanford has never been about getting something done to help small business unless his big ideas got done first. When we were lobbying hard to pass an increase in the cigarette tax to give premium assistance to small businesses offering health insurance to low-income workers, Sanford went a different direction. He got a bill passed that he loudly proclaimed would help small business better afford health insurance. At the time I predicted that the plan was doomed to fail. Today not one business in this state has ever benefitted from Mark Sanford’s “health care reform”.

Now the latest in the Sanford small business “I’m here to help” folklore. He has vetoed the entire budget of the S.C. Small Business Development Center. Not just a decrease….the whole $523,121 budget.

Why? Because he claims that the SBDC does exactly the same things as the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Has the Governor ever met his Department of Commerce? They don’t do small business development. Never have in the entire history of the agency. They concentrate on big business recruitment, expansion and retention. Nothing wrong with that.

But the Department of Commerce doesn’t have offices around the state providing consultation to the would-be entrepreneur or help to a small business person figuring out how to survive a recession. They don’t teach how to do a business plan or help a small business find a government contract. That’s what the SBDC does.

All the SBDC success stories in 2009 of creating jobs and financing pale in comparison to one Boeing landed by Commerce. But the SBDC successes are day after day, not once every 20 years. And as I mentioned in my last blog, 64% of all the net new jobs created nationwide in the last 15 years came from small businesses.

For all Mark Sanford’s years’ of talk about small businesses being the backbone of our economy, he has never once put his money where his mouth is. Vetoing the SBDC budget is just more proof.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Time for Congress to Act

Last week the crisis of far too few small business loans being made seemed to be getting some needed attention.

The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, is reported by the New York Times to have said Thursday “that banks needed to increase lending to small businesses to reduce unemployment and help the economic recover.”

Last Friday Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, wrote to President Obama saying “it is imperative we invest in our nation’s small businesses to grow our economy and create new private sector jobs immediately.”

Even the Brits get it. UK Business Secretary Vince Cable spoke last Thursday of similar problems in their country. According to the Herald Scotland, Cable warned that the banking sector’s reluctance to lend to small businesses could stifle the fragile economic recovery and he pledged that the new government would bring pressure for change.

Just how important is it that money really starts flowing to small businesses again? Of all the net new jobs created nationwide in the last 15 years, 64 percent came from small businesses.

This problem has been recognized for some time. I have previously written about it in opinion editorials in The State and in Washington’s The Hill as well addressed it in a Capital Hill press conference with Senator Dick Durbin and others. I and other representatives of small business organizations met with numerous Congressional staffers back in April to call for action—Enhance SBA lending. Infuse federal funds into community banks to improve their financial stability and establish effective incentives to yield more loans to small businesses. Raise the business-lending cap on credit unions. All other vehicles for increasing lending to small businesses need to be nourished and enhanced.

Some financial institutions have started pushing back against the "not lending" criticism saying they would like to make more loans to qualified small businesses but the demand isn’t there. Mr. Bernanke unfortunately entertained this lame excuse saying “it was difficult to tell whether the decrease (in loans) was a result of reduced demand or tightened credit standards.” So it was the Brit Cable that had to drive a stake in the heart of that “blame the victim” argument. “The banks claim that there is no demand. That is not right. If the bar is set too high, of course, no-one is willing to jump.”

Now that Congress has healthcare reform under its belt, Wall Street reform is in conference committee this week, both parties are afraid to tackle immigration reform and Senator Lindsay Graham has turned down the fire under comprehensive energy/climate legislation; Congress can now tackle the one remaining serious problem slowing down the nation’s real growth in jobs—the small business loan crisis.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Buy SC and Help the State's Economy

The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce will be launching a new website this month and we want your business listed on our new "BuySC" page.


The "BuySC" section of our new website will promote the buying of goods and services from South Carolina businesses. The economic benefit of keeping our dollars in our state and local economies is great. The money churns through our economy many times creating even more demand for our goods and services resulting in job creation.

That is what "BuySC" is all about. Growing our local and state economy at the local level by encouraging people and businesses to buy from South Carolina-owned businesses. Each county will have its own page for members like you to tell about their business, goods and services, and discounts offered to visitors of the site.

Heavy Promotion

The Small Business Chamber will drive traffic to the "BuySC" page by constant promotion to our own members and non-members using search engines. The "BuySC" campaign will also be included in our Facebook and blog sites. Your discounts will be an important incentive for visits to the section.

Dirt Cheap Advertising

"BuySC" is available for you to promote your business as a "Friend" of the Small Business Chamber for only $50 a year.

In addition to being listed on our "BuySC" site, you will also receive all the Small Business Chamber e-newsletters, e-alerts, legislative e-updates and free admission to future business seminars sponsored by the Small Business Chamber.

To learn more or sign up today for "BuySC", call 803-252-5733 or e-mail the Small Business Chamber at:

Together we can make South Carolina a more small business friendly state. Here is a preview of what our new home page will look like.