Talk is cheap; action
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report
OCT. 13, 2002 - - There are a lot of people in South Carolina -
- Republicans and Democrats - - who know the basic things we need
to do to make the state a better place.
They know we need to improve our education system, reform the tax
system, and make health care more affordable for working people
and seniors. They know we have to preserve our quality of life,
conserve our special places and attract better, high-paying jobs.
While they all know what needs to be done, nothing much seems to
happen. We keep having the same old, small partisan battles. It's
as if the state's leaders and potential leaders enjoy talking about
solutions, but never get around to actually doing much of anything.
Now comes yet another report by a think tank that outlines the
state's weaknesses and suggests opportunities. Of particular interest
are three facts, the Palmetto Institute said:
" South Carolina has a real gross state product per capita
that's 20 percent below the national average.
" The state's average manufacturing wage is 24 percent below
the national average.
" Less than two thirds of the people who could be working
are participating in the labor market.
Each statistic is an indicator that we do things the old way -
- that we're not applying 21st century strategies to 21st century
problems. As a result, our old-school way of approaching problems
means we're not going to be a player in the markets of the future
unless we turn around how we approach things.
The Palmetto Institute, led by dynamic businesswoman Darla Moore,
suggests the state should concentrate on clusters of things it does
well and become a leader in those areas. That makes sense. A similar
strategy was suggested last year in a report on the South by the
Southern Governor's Association.
"South Carolina does not have to settle for economic mediocrity,"
Moore said in press conferences around the state. "We are limited
only to the extent that we refuse to change."
But change is going to require courage. Lawmakers who go to Columbia
to set goals for the state are going to have to stop bickering over
small things. They're going to have to band together as South Carolinians,
not as Republicans or Democrats, to develop innovative solutions
so we can start reaping benefits of knowledge-based markets.
Here's one simple idea that could help decision-makers: required
training seminars for all state lawmakers.
Right now, lawyers, doctors and other certified professionals are
required to attend yearly continuing education classes. Shouldn't
we expect our lawmakers to be educated periodically so they can
keep up with major issues?
Our state legislators come from a wide variety of experiences.
Many don't understand the intricacies of tough issues, such as paying
for Medicaid or why investing in venture capital can spur economic
growth. A lot of lawmakers sail through each session without an
in-depth understanding of issues. (It may be hard to believe, but
If the House and Senate leadership sponsored a required weekly
training session for specific issues - - two hours one week on hog
farms, three hours the next on nursing shortages - - lawmakers would
be better prepared. It wouldn't be a budget buster. More than likely,
college professors or professionals would provide the training for
If South Carolina is to become an active participant in the knowledge-based
economy of the future, it has to concentrate on performing in areas
in which it best competes. But it also has to have leaders with
the courage to act, not just talk, and put the state on the right
path so it can catch up to the challenges and opportunities of the
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