S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1231.cartoon.htm

NOTE: This year-end edition features our annual Cartoon in Review issue of drawings by the talented Bill McLemore, a retired Episcopal priest who lives in LaGrange, Ga. Enjoy the best of McLemore 2006.

What real reform might look like in South Carolina
By Andy Brack, Publisher
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 31, 2006 - - Because South Carolina generally ranks high in things it shouldn't and low in things that should be higher, the start of a new legislative session brings hope.

But somehow, it also brings apprehension - - the sense that in the larger scheme of things, lawmakers won't do much more than a South Carolina version of rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. So for all of the talk about change in 30-second political ads and stump speeches, here's a look at a real reform agenda that could make a big difference in the lives of most people in South Carolina if politicians were courageous enough to embrace it:

Energy policy. State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, this week said the state didn't really have an energy policy. But it needs one. Because electricity is relatively inexpensive in the state compared to the rest of the country, South Carolina uses 55 percent more power than the national average. If the state had a real energy policy based on conservation, it wouldn't have to build more expensive power plants that spew pollution into the air.

Health care. Hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians are without adequate health care protection, but no bills pre-filed in the General Assembly deal with this need. Most people will tell you that good health care is one of their top issues. If South Carolina wants to make a dent in providing better health care, it should raise its lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax and use the revenues to offset health costs (not as an income tax giveaway, as suggested by Gov. Mark Sanford.)

Economics. It's good the state seems to be reinvesting in its Commerce Department after it was gutted a couple of years back. And it's encouraging that House Speaker Bobby Harrell is calling for an investment in hydrogen research, which could bring more jobs here. But if lawmakers want to do something real now, they would immediately raise the minimum wage by at least $1 an hour - - something that would help more working people quicker than any other measure.


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Tax structure. A new report says South Carolina businesses and residents will get $1.7 billion in tax cuts. But as John Rainey, chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisers told a newspaper, "We're nickel and diming ourselves to death when we don't have an overall plan. Why would there be tax relief on an arthritis drug and not on a cholesterol drug? Why would there be tax relief on either one of them?" State lawmakers need to take a serious look at reshaping the state's tax structure to bring it into the 21st century and be fairer to most people.

Restructuring. There are a slew of proposals to restructure government - from changing constitutional offices to elected ones and reshaping the Budget and Control Board. But when push comes to shove, these proposals don't seem to fall into an overall plan that addresses the structure of South Carolina government. Rather than rushing to do a few things, it might be better to form a state Restructuring Commission to develop a bipartisan plan with recommendations that will look at the forest of state government, not just the trees.

Participation. As outlined a few weeks back, the state can promote more democracy by making changes in the way it allows people to participate at the polls. Instead of voting on the second Tuesday of November, politicians ought to consider various options, such as Oregon's voting by mail or plans that allow people to vote over several days or on Saturdays. By improving participation, the state's representative democracy will become stronger.

Education. The recent election of Jim Rex as state superintendent of education seemed to show that school vouchers weren't a winning idea. Perhaps the best thing to get South Carolina education out of the cellar is to not do anything for awhile and give existing ideas a chance to mature. In other words, instead of making more untested or unproven changes, maybe it's time to let our educational stew simmer awhile before adding in more ingredients.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

lighter side
Cartoon Year in Review

In 2006, a book of cartoons by Bill McLemore was published to help raise money for a Georgia charity. For just $20, you can get "A Gift of Laughter" and help Rainbow Village at the same time. To order, call 770 840 1003 or email to info@gwinnettforum.com.

Here's a sample of the best of 2006 by McLemore:

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006 (a new cartoon)

12/22: Voting changes needed

To the editor:

Since moving to SC 5 years ago, the first year we voted stood in line, etc. They did not have everything on the machine for our district, and we were told to go to another district for the rest of the ballot. We thought that was highly irregular.

Since then we have gotten our absentee ballot, so we could study the issues and the people we are voting for. I like your comments on Oregon and I feel that SC should give it a try.

-- Anne Demuth, Charleston, S.C.

12/24: Holding breath on legislative season

To the editor:

I am one of those who would characterize the annual convening of the S.C. General Assembly as the "silly season." It would be nice if I were able to approach the legislative season with a sense of optimism that legislation to solve the state's most pressing problems would be put forward and adopted, but I can never seem to do so. When the gavel falls to open the session, I figuratively hold my breath and silently hope that sine die adjournment will come before the legislators further emasculate home rule, adopt short-sighted but politically self-serving tax cuts, defund public education through vouchers, destroy orderly growth, planning, and zoning through regulatory takings legislation, etc., ad nauseum.

The General Assembly is populated by so many ideologues whose contempt for government for government per se limits their perspective and the public policy options they will entertain, except where they can use government to serve the special, and narrow, interests they serve--interests adverse to the common good. People who philosophically disdain government, as so many in the General Assembly do, cannot possibly be expected to render policy solutions that exhibit any confidence in the ability of government to solve problems.

-- Chip Brown, Conway, S.C.

12/26: Need to work on education reform

To the editor:

I just read your article "Silly season upon us" and have concluded that the politicians simply have the wrong idea about education reform. We should do something meaningful, such as eliminating make-up snow days. Below are writings of mine that expand upon this idea.

Basically, transition from a calendar based education system to a content based education system (and then build the calendar around that.)

My goal is to find a politician that will act on my ideas and have them legislated.

-- Jim Kappler, Anderson, SC

12/28: Read cheap drinks bill again

To the editor:

Probably ought to read the bill again. That's not at all what it does.

-- Speaker Pro Tem Doug Smith, R-Spartanburg

NOTE: Rep. Smith is referring to a part of last week's commentary that highlighted newly-proposed bill H. 3176. We correctly summarized the proposal would limit offers of discount drinks in bars and but erred in saying it would permit happy hours only one day a week. Click the link and read for yourself.

Recent feedback

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Notes veteran lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell: "Statehouse Report gives an inside practical report of weekly problems with and progress of legislation. It reviews the whole landscape."

In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get:

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Davis to join Statehouse Report as new editor

South Carolina newsman Bill Davis of Charleston will join S.C. Statehouse Report as editor starting in January, publisher Andy Brack announced.

"Bill will bring a refreshing but seasoned pair of eyes to covering what's going to happen at the Statehouse for the Report," Brack said.

Davis, the son of noted scholars and the grandson of a former White House AP correspondent, has been a reporter and writer for papers in three different states over his 10-year career.

Last year, Mr. Davis was a national finalist for short form reporting award, placing third, as well as the winner of the SC Press Association's top award for feature/profile writing for weekly papers for a piece he wrote on Gov. Mark Sanford. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Davis also covered the Virginia General Assembly when he worked for a daily paper in that state. Davis is a married, father of two, living in Charleston, S.C.

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