S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1219.sense.htm

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Statehouse Report Editor and Publisher Andy Brack will appear on SCETV Radio's "Your Day" around noon Thursday, Dec. 23, for a special look at the 2005 legislative session.

COMMENTARY
Shifting priorities cause state to rebuild what it had
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 19, 2004 - - Sometimes, you've just got to wonder what state policy leaders were thinking.

Two recent news stories highlight how state government policy often develops in a discombobulated, erratic manner - - the policy version the little Dutch boy who sticks his finger in the dike to plug a leak, only to find another problem to crop up quickly.

First, is news that Gov. Mark Sanford has the laudable goal of wanting to beef up state law enforcement capabilities next year by adding 425 officers, including 100 new troopers, 124 new corrections officers, 126 new juvenile justice officers and more than 40 new wildlife officers.

Then comes news that South Carolina is better prepared to combat bioterrorism since Sept. 11 but that it didn't received top preparedness grades from an outside group because it cut public health spending over the last two years.

With both stories, one wonders about state priorities. Yes, lawmakers have been dealing with difficult budgets, but cuts to two basic and major priorities - law enforcement and public health - over the last few years make little common sense.


Gov. Mark Sanford recently at a press conference announcing his budget priorities

Perhaps the best example on all of this yo-yo approach to policy is in the law enforcement arena. Just four years ago in 2000, the state had 1,006 troopers in the S.C. Highway Patrol. Budget cuts when both parties controlled the governor's mansion at different times led to the Patrol being reduced to 785 officers today - - a loss of 221 seasoned troopers in just four years.

While it's laudable the governor wants to add 100 new troopers to beef up the patrol, what's galling is how much institutional knowledge the state lost when it got rid of more than 20 percent of its trooper workforce through cuts, early retirement and whatnot. Now the state may get fresh recruits who won't have the experience of long-time officers.

A similar dynamic has been at work at the state Department of Natural Resources. Cuts over the last two years caused about 80 wildlife officers to leave the state payroll. Since then, boating deaths went up. Some counties only had one officer to deal with wildlife law enforcement issues.

With Sanford's proposal, the agency will get about 40 more wildlife officers, if the General Assembly goes along. But what kind of common sense does it make to cut seasoned officers and come back later and replace them with recruits who don't know the land or have the relationships in a community?

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: New use for armored cars

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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In another policy area, state funding for public health is down over the last two years, an "accomplishment" that earned criticism for the state from the Trust for America's Health (www.healthyamericans.org). In a report issued this month, the organization said South Carolina earned a score of 6 on a 10-point scale of indicators that measured the state's preparedness to respond to bioterrorist attacks and other health emergencies. The score, which was about average for states across the country, was low because of public health funding.

Overall, the report said America was better prepared to deal with bioterrorism than it was three years ago. Similarly, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart, South Carolina's homeland security representative, said the state was much better prepared with millions of dollars in new federal funding for labs, chemists and other professionals. Thom Berry of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said agencies also were communicating and sharing information better, which improved preparedness in multiple ways.

The point, however, of all of this is about the state's priorities. Under Gov. Jim Hodges, the number one priority was education. Under Sanford, it appears to be about efficiency and restructuring.

As priorities shift, important things like law enforcement and public health may move off center stage, as they have recently. But the real impacts are on the institution of state government, which then loses experienced officials who perform better than new hires, and taxpayers, who now have to shell out more money to try to get back something of what they had.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
12/19: New use for armored cars

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:


LEARN MORE DAILY

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

Highway Patrol. Hats off to the Patrol for its new Operation Target Zero, which seeks to cut highway fatalities in half in 2005.

Hollings. Congratulations to retiring U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings for his outspokenness and candor last week on 60 Minutes regarding how money is infecting politics. It's also good news the ACE Basin will be named to honor his career work to protect South Carolina's special places.

Mixed reviews

Sanford. Finally, yes finally, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a risky property tax cap bill that passed the legislature last year (did we really have to wait six months?). But thumbs down to the governor for his meddling at Santee Cooper, such as firing the board chair last week. The politicization of Santee Cooper has resulted in a costly drop in its credit rating on Wall Street.

Thumbs down

Pitts. A bill by Rep. Mike Pitts, D-Union, suggests lengthening lawmaker terms. Bad idea. South Carolina needs more democracy, not incumbency protection.


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