S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1128.picture.htm

COMMENTARY
Lawmakers need to look at bigger picture
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 28, 2004 - - With the opening of the next session of the S.C. General Assembly a little more than a month away, it's time to look at the bigger picture for a change.

If you think about what state lawmakers have done over the last couple of years, there's not much for them to hang their hats on. Yes, there was reform of the Public Service Commission. Yes, lawmakers finally funded the state Conservation Bank. They also dealt with a $155 million deficit, passed a measure to let people decide whether they wanted minibottles and provided some economic development incentives.

Among the things lawmakers didn't do were government restructuring, tax reform, tort reform, improved education funding, protection of isolated wetlands and streamlining health care services to make them more efficient and effective. The list goes on and on.

What's notable on both lists - - things done and left undone - - is the focus. Both lists focus on government mechanics. It's as if lawmakers are wholly centered on tinkering at the edges of government - - of reshaping the size of the government envelope, not looking at how it performs for users.

Meanwhile, look at news and headlines from the past couple of months:

  • Violent crime. South Carolina has the nation's top rate of violent crime, according to a November analysis by The State newspaper. It has more than 800 crime incidents annually per 100,000 people.

  • Poverty. Some 12.7 percent of South Carolinians live in poverty, according to September figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Hunger. More than 450,000 South Carolinians are on some form of food stamps, according to published reports. With a down economy, the number has been increasing.

  • Women. South Carolina ranks next to the last in the country in terms of political, economic, social and health standards for women, according to a November study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

  • Education. While South Carolina's overall educational achievement has been marked by solid increases, the state's SAT scores (often a lagging indicator) are at the bottom.

The contrast between what lawmakers are focusing on and what's happening across the state couldn't be clearer. Lawmakers aren't really concentrating on the real problems that face many taxpayers (i.e., voters.).

If something isn't done to address real problems, not manufactured political ones, lawmakers eventually may suffer the consequences. If people's needs for better health care, less hunger, less poverty, more equity and less violence aren't addressed, they may decide to throw out the good old boys and girls for people who will try to make a difference.

* * * * *

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Sneaking out on a holiday

FEEDBACK: On education vouchers

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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As lawmakers prepare to head back to Columbia in a few weeks, Gov. Mark Sanford still hasn't dealt with 15 bills passed earlier this year.

What's taking so long? While Sanford's spokespeople say he's considering them in the time he's allowed, which is until the start of the next session, it seems awfully odd that the governor who bills himself as such a can-do guy seems to be struggling so much.

All must not be what it seems.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, it appears Senate Republicans are on a path to push through new Senate rules that will limit the use of the filibuster. While many crow the new rules will help speed up the process, we wonder whether that's a good thing. There's a lot of bad legislation that moves from the racetrack (otherwise known as the S.C. House) to the Senate. To this point, the Senate has been the only thing that cooled down firebrands in the House.

Curbing the use of the filibuster, which was first perfected in the U.S. Senate by South Carolina's own John C. Calhoun in the 1840s, seems anti-American. One of the important aspects of the filibuster is that while uncomfortable and a tool that drags out things, it also makes advocates of new proposals listen to opponents. What results are compromises that tend to take everyone's concerns into account.

If the filibuster's effectiveness is sliced and diced by politicians, South Carolinians - - particularly those who are poor, hungry, jobless and uneducated - - may be in for even tougher times.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
11/28: Sneaking out on a holiday

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:


FEEDBACK
11/15: Governor is wrong on vouchers

To the editor:

I just finished reading your commentary on school vouchers in today's Sumter Item. Even though I don't have time to elaborate on all the points of the commentary, I felt compel to write and THANK you for making such a strong and timely case for us parents with kids in public schools as well as for citizens who appreciate the value of public education and the role it plays in the well being of our society. As PTA president of an elementary school here in Sumter I will ask all of our membership to please read your commentary. You touched all the salient points and I hope parents as well as concerned citizens will let our politicians know that the Governor is wrong on this one. Again, thank you.

-- W. Harrison Brown, PTA President, Millwood Elementary School, Sumter, S.C.


11/16: Give public schools a fair fight

To the editor:

I can not believe the lack of EQUALITY in the voucher fight. They day they give a public school $4,000.00 to educate a child would be the happiest of my life! How come parents get $4,000.00 in tax breaks to send a kid to a private school while the public schools get less than $2000.00 per pupil to try to do the same job? At least give us a fair fight!

-- Dr. Janet Roberts, public school educator, Chapin, S.C.


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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

Graham. Hats off to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham who has poked holes at fellow Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's voucher plan.

USC, Clemson. Congratulations to the schools for removing part of their black eyes from the recent football game brawl by taking themselves out of any running for bowl bids.

Thumbs down

Altman. What is Rep. John Graham Altman's hang-up about gay people? Now the Charleston Republican wants to yank funding from SCETV for airing a free documentary on what he calls the "militant homosexual agenda." Tough language from a fellow with a militant extremist agenda.

Naming rights. If state lawmakers would stop the practice of naming buildings, roads, bridges and more for living people - - including incumbent colleages - - they wouldn't be caught in situations like a road named for new felon Earle Morris, the former lieutenant governor and comptroller general convicted in the Carolina Investors case.


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