S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1003.htm

COMMENTARY
New rationale sweeping through SC political discussions
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

OCT. 3, 2004 --South Carolina seems to be becoming a state that wants to have its cake and eat it too. In politics, some seem to want two styles of government at once.

On one hand, many in South Carolina remain a strong believer in a Republican-backed mantra that the government which governs best is that which is closest to the people. Hence, the Palmetto State's longstanding kinship for state's rights over federalized control.

But on the other hand, a new kind of political rationale is being heard from business-backed interests. They seem to generally agree with the overall mantra - - unless it doesn't fit their needs. Then, somewhat hypocritically, they call for centralized state control.

Two 2004 examples come to mind.

First is the case of hog farms. In reaction to some counties that enacted tough regulations to keep factory hog farms out of their area, the House GOP in the spring pushed through a bill that would have prohibited local governments from enacting stricter guidelines on hog and poultry farms than those in state law. As the bill wound its way through the Senate, it morphed into a broad measure that would have barred local governments from adopting regulatory measures tougher than the state's. The bill failed. But it will be back next session.

Second, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control is working on a draft of legislation to protect isolated wetlands. In the past session, a bill backed by the S.C. Association of Realtors got all the way to conference committee before it died in the last days of the session. That bill, thought to be bad by conservationists because it exempted too much land from protection, also will be back in some form.

In both instances, proponents of the measures essentially argue the state is a better guardian of standards than local government. But these calls for more centralized government fly in the face of the GOP's years-long pitch for devolved government.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: By the poll numbers

FEEDBACK: Amendment Two is bad

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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"The business community wants it both ways," says Dana Beach, executive director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. "They are being cravenly opportunistic. When they see something advantageous to them that involves devolving [government] down to the local level, they're for it.

"But when it comes to things they see as disadvantageous, such as municipal regulations of hog farms, they're big fans of centralized government….Ultimately, it's just a matter of trying to promote policies that promote their particular interest, not the interest of the public."

At issue is where control of local policies should be. Under South Carolina's home rule, the state is all powerful, but grants certain functions, such as zoning and police powers, to local governments.

Local governments are ideal for many parochial matters because they can respond more quickly than the state and they can take local conditions into account, said Robert Croom of the S.C. Association of Counties. Also, when local governments can control development through zoning and other tools, they're able to steer some growth to certain areas or make undesirable growth difficult.

Consider the benefits of this local control. Some communities have ordinances that require signs like McDonald's golden arches to be discreet. Others regulate where adult bookstores and liquor stores can be.

These local controls allow local communities to define and improve their quality of life. Furthermore, in communities like Hilton Head Island, such regulatory enhancements can cause property values to rise because of what they don't allow.

If state lawmakers take away local flexibility on some regulatory matters, such as adult bookstores and mega-hog farms, they will limit people's abilities to create the kind of communities they want to live in.

In the long run, that could hurt the state's efforts to recruit retirees and new businesses.

Bottom line: before succumbing to the business lobby's arguments for more centralized control in some cases, lawmakers should look at the bigger picture and think about what state control would mean to the quality of life in South Carolina's towns, cities and counties.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
10/3: By the poll numbers

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
9/27: Amendment Two will nail small counties

To the editor:

This amendment (Statehouse Report, 9/26) that sounds so good, will be just one more nail in the coffins of the small rural counties of South Carolina. The majority of the property in these counties is owned by large paper companies.

Your amendment will reduce the counties assessed value on this type real estate by one third (33 percent). This shifts more of the tax burden to the homeowners and the local business people. Is that fair? No way!

Timber production is a business just like your local IGA or Piggly Wiggly. It should be taxed similarly.

-- John A. Padgett, Marion County Auditor, Marion, S.C.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We also learned that last week's commentary generated some discussion on a SC tax bulletin board. Here's an excerpt from a Lancaster County official:

"This is just another way the brillant people in Columbia pass special laws to help certain groups; this will have the opposite effect as proposed and in some counties will be a shift of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to homeowners and business owners!! As usual the counties and homeowners lose out to benefit the rich."

From another source in S.C. Senate research, we learned this:

"This amendment, if adopted, will allow larger companies to apply for the 4 percent tax assessment on agricultural property. Because the legislation deletes the previous limitation of ten shareholders, companies with more than 10 shareholders likely favor this proposed amendment. Conservation and environmental groups that seek to slow down development of land may be against this proposed amendment."


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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

SC schools. With the state's focus on accountability in education, more schools did better (56 percent better) on meeting federal No Child Left Behind standards than ever.

Moving down. We learned this week that South Carolina is no longer the number 1 state in men killing women. Now it's number 6 -- better, but way too high still.

Thumbs down

Limehouse. An idea by Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, to let private school and home-schooled students participate in public school gifted programs and activities doesn't sound right. If they want to do so, they should go to public school...or let the local districts decide, not have a state mandate.

Wingate. Columbia Republican Ken Wingate is under fire by black lawmakers for an endorsement he got from the right-wing League of the South when he ran for governor two years ago.


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