March 7, 2004
keep word on Conservation Bank
SC Statehouse Report
MARCH 7, 2004 -- When people are asked to name
political issues that are most important to them, they list
taxes, crime and the economy. Often, they don't mention "environment"
- - even though more than 80 percent of Americans want stronger
environmental laws, according to the League of Conservation
reason, a pollster once explained, is Americans assume no
politician would be crazy enough to be anti-environmental.
So because people assume most leaders would vote to conserve
land and protect habitat, they don't believe politicians would
threaten the nation's environmental resources.
Sadly, that's not true. And sadly, a good measure to safeguard
land in South Carolina is threatened.
Two years ago with much hullabaloo, the SC General Assembly
passed a bill to start the SC Conservation Bank. It was to
be a flexible infrastructure fund to allow the state to contribute
dollars in innovative ways to buy, give loans or partner with
other organizations to protect important land.
At the time, state legislators put off funding until 2004,
but gave their word the new bank would be funded at that time.
Now with all of the state's budget problems, funding appears
to be threatened, conservationists warn.
Prior to this week, SC House budget writers approved a $5.1
million appropriations plan in committee that included funding
of the Conservation Bank. But when a $40 million defunding
of something called the Second Injury Fund became a political
hot potato, they restored its funding. That left a $40 million
hole to fill. Word from various sources is they're seriously
considering taking all or part of the funding scheduled for
the Conservation Bank.
They shouldn't. They'd be breaking their word.
WORLD: There outta be a law ...
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The Conservation Bank essentially is a trust fund, explains
Chip Campsen, the conservative former Charleston House member
who was the architect of the bank. If lawmakers don't fund
the bank, they'd essentially be raiding a trust fund. Last
year, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed millions of dollars of spending
from similar raids on other conservation trust funds.
It's called a trust fund for a reason - - people trust the
state to give money to it and use it for the purposes for
which it was created.
Campsen admitted he'd be greatly disappointed if his past
colleagues didn't steer the promised money to the Conservation
"It is something that has brought people together,"
he said. "It's the one issue on the environmental front
that has united everybody from the Realtors, Sierra Club,
state Chamber, Democrats and Republicans."
He added that thousands of dollars in seed funding to establish
the nuts and bolts of the Conservation Bank were given by
corporate America, notably Anheuser-Busch, so the bank would
be ready to dole out money to protect land when state funding
was in place.
"When corporate America steps up with that sort of charitable
intent, it's not something you should pull the rug out from
under," Campsen said.
Dana Beach, head of the SC Coastal Conservation League, said
many who have been leery of conservation funding in the past
have argued the state needed an incentive-based conservation
mechanism that would be flexible and creative enough to leverage
more non-state dollars to protect land. And that's what they
get with the Conservation Bank.
If they don't fund the Bank, "What they'd be doing is
taking away the one tool that they said they wanted to create,"
Beach said South Carolina historically has done little to
protect land because it relied on federal and private dollars.
But with the looming retirement of U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings
and more development pressures along the coast particularly,
it's time for the state to step up to the plate. Already,
it's way behind Florida, which spends $300 million per year
to conserve land, and North Carolina ($50 million.).
"It was a good idea. It is a good idea. And it is very
modest compared to Florida and North Carolina."
South Carolina made a commitment to invest to protect land.
State lawmakers need to keep their word. If they don't, they
risk upsetting voters who care - - and facilitating the loss
of more of South Carolina's special places.
There outta be a law...
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
Sanford. Hats off to the governor and others who got
the feds to return more than $100 million in Medicaid money.
That surely helps with the budget in such a mess.
PSC. Finally, after more than two years, the General
Assembly elected new members of the Public Service Commission.
Good news: They're more qualified than ever before.
Maybank. Good luck to State Revenue Director Burnie
Maybank, who asked for -- and received -- $9 million in new
funding with the promise he could deliver $90 million in delinquent
tax collections. He'd better -- the state already is spending
Wilkins. Thumbs down to House Speaker David Wilkins
for attempting a blatant power grab following the Govan-Harrison
fracas. The speaker says he needs more power to discipline
members. First, he shouldn't have to do so. Second, wasn't
removing Govan from a major committee a big enough slap to
him and the Black Caucus?
School vouchers. Taking public money away from public
schools is bad public policy. The governor should know that.
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