S.C. Statehouse Report
Feb. 22, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0222.pop.htm

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State has failed rural counties
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

FEB. 22, 2004 - More than 70 years ago, Lee County was home to 24,096 people. Today, 16.5 percent fewer people - - some 20,119 residents - - live there.

While areas like Greenville, Mount Pleasant and Bluffton are experiencing whopping growth, Lee County is one of seven rural counties in the state with negative growth since 1930, according to U.S. Census figures. Another eight rural counties have had relatively flat population growth of less than 15 percent over 70 years.

What makes these counties' situations tougher are the lack of job opportunities available to rural residents. Of the 15 counties with negative or flat growth, there are more with double-digit unemployment rates (Union, Marlboro, McCormick, Chester, Fairfield, Williamsburg) than the four with rates that are less than the state's 6.1 percent average (Allendale, Bamberg, Calhoun and Saluda).

"You cannot sustain economic growth in this state with 30 percent of your population lagging behind," said Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg.

Matthews says there's a belt of rural counties that follows the Interstate 95 corridor that tend to offer less opportunity, have higher unemployment and lower population growth. A similar belt that stretches from Chester to McCormick counties separates the Upstate from the Midlands.

  • More info. The map is shown above. To look at a chart with the unemployment and growth numbers, click here. (PDF, 20K)

In short, looking at population growth over the years and comparing it to unemployment rates highlights the two South Carolinas - - rural South Carolina where life, in many ways, is much like it was years ago, and the vibrant growing areas of metropolitan South Carolina.

Matthews says the state has failed rural areas.

"Their gaps are not closing primarily because of public policy," he said. "You have to change public policy to give these rural communities a chance to be what they can be. In order to change this state, we're going to have to invest in the Interstate 95 corridor."

He says education - - the great equalizer - - is the key. Better education in rural areas will help encourage and sustain growth there.



McLEMORE'S WORLD: If pollsters ran elections

FEEDBACK: Pro and con on gay marriage



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In large part, access to a good education is a big reason why rural areas are suing the state over education funding. Observers will tell you rural schools already generally get more dollars per capita than urban and suburban schools. But experts are testifying in the ongoing Manning trial that rural schools don't get enough money to provide the same quality of education that kids are getting in growing areas.

Mike Gulledge, director of the State Budget and Control Board's office of local government, agrees that schools, as well as access to good roads, are vitally important for rural communities to flourish. But basic infrastructure needs have to be in place too.

"You also have to have water and sewer infrastructure," he said. "Where you have the development in the state is where you have the water and sewer infrastructure. An industry doesn't want to be made a promise of what could be there - - they want the infrastructure in place."

State Reps. Harry Ott, R-Calhoun, and Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, have organized the new House Rural Caucus as a group of more than five dozen members - - half of the membership of the House - - with ties to rural communities. The new caucus has the potential to be a powerful player in state politics if it wields its muscle.

In the coming week, the caucus will seek to address some of the long-standing infrastructure inequities felt by rural communities by introducing a bill to create a Rural Infrastructure Bank. Ott explained a bill to be introduced would reorganize $35 million to $50 million of current state funds for rural communities into a central repository from which rural areas could borrow to build the infrastructure they need to attract more economic opportunities.

For years, South Carolina's economic developers have focused growth on urban areas. Instead of continuing to exacerbate gaps and ignore rural areas, state leaders need to boost rural economic efforts by thinking outside the box with innovative ideas like a Rural Infrastructure Bank.

It's time for the state to stop the failed economic policies of the past for rural areas. South Carolina needs to close gaps and create opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of rural residents who have been left behind. Remember, they're taxpayers too.

If elections were left to pollsters

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:

2/15: Preserving marriage isn't discrimination

To the editor:

In your opinion of 2/15/04, if you are trying to make a point by using
the race issue it does not apply. Preserving the marriage institution as a
union between a man and a woman is not blatant discrimination as you claim.

This country has been built on the family unit. The lynchpin of the family
is the man and woman. The problems in this country from education, drugs &
crime, entertainment, and drugs in sports are blamed on the breakdown of the
family structure. We are talking morals and values.

The marriage issue has to do with how families are going to find the answers
to all the outside influences that are causing the younger generation to
lose their way. The gays are the ones putting election year politics above
the needs of the county.

-- Chuck Landau, Hilton Head, SC

2/15: Gay marriage issue is election-year politics

To the editor:

Marriage should be for people who make lifetime commitments to each other and actually intend to keep them. Gay people want only a single opportunity to pledge in their long-term relationships what Rep. [John Graham] Altman has pledged and breached at least twice in his own. And just how is it that Rep. Altman became the spokesperson for the institution of marriage in South Carolina anyway? Is there some "Frequent Flyer-type" program that the rest of us don't know about?

Any straight person in SC can have a few too many cocktails at the local pub, run to the nearest wedding chapel, parrot a few appropriate phrases and settle down for a week or so of wedded bliss and be in Divorce Court in a week. While the example may be a bit extreme, the ability of the straight couple to marry frivolously in SC is only exceeded by the couple's ability to divorce just as frivolously. The point is that with no forethought or public scrutiny whatsoever, the most frivolously married straight couple instantly receives 1,049 federal rights and benefits and hundreds more state benefits that are denied to gay couples. Many of those gay relationships have withstood the assaults of bigots like John Graham Altman III for thirty, forty and fifty years.

As parents of a gay son, we wish someone would explain to us how one human being loving another human being as much as our son loved his [late] partner in any way threatens the so-called sanctity of anyone's heterosexual marriage. The "sanctity of marriage" rallying cry is simply a sugar-coated justification for anti-gay legislation and gay-bashing...just as "state's rights" was a sugarcoated justification for segregation and lynching...and it is born of the same kind of hatred. It is a fraudulent issue.

The institution of marriage doesn't need protection from loving, caring gay South Carolinians like our son and his partner; it needs protection from demagogues and hypocrites like John Graham Altman III ....Mr. Altman and his cronies need to spend more time on real issues that deeply affect South Carolinians like paying off the $800 million budget deficit they ran up last year rather than grandstanding on the issue of this imaginary assault on the institution of marriage. If we can move SC beyond Altman's election year "chumming of the waters" on this issue, we might actually find that gay people do a better job of strengthening the institution of marriage than people like Rep. Altman do. They certainly couldn't do any worse.

-- James A. and Irene F. Smith, Charleston, SC

Editor's Note: This letter has been edited for length. Altman was not mentioned in the 2/15 story, but has been quoted in various media as opposing gay marriage. Also, the Smith's son, Charles, is an announced candidate seeking to replace Altman in the SC House.

2/15: Gay marriage would impact state

Your article which supposes that the gay marriage laws are only fluff and have no bearing on the function of our state are flawed. What you fail to recognize is that a marriage is also a state recognized relationship which has certain inherent rights and privileges. It would have a significant impact on SC businesses if all gay relationships had the right of survivorship, the tax advantages in probate, the life and health insurance benefits, and the right to retirement benefits of a gay partners, if all gay relationships were given the sanctity of marriage. These are enormous cost burdens on business alone, not even to mention the morality issues.

By declaring these issues as "GOP grandstanding" you have displayed not only your own bias, but your lack of understanding of the issues. There are natural limits imposed by God or nature, whichever you choose, that should be respected by all humans.

-- Stuart King, Florence, SC

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