S.C. Statehouse Report
Nov. 30, 2003
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/03.1130.plan.htm


HOT ISSUE
State needs to plan better for future
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 30, 2003 - - One of the biggest challenges facing state government is the need for sound planning - - planning for education , economic development, fiscal management and more.

At least that's the consensus of an informal panel of a half dozen Charleston-area business leaders who shared a lunch of Chinese food recently.

"Planning is a huge issue," said Meg Howle, a marketing professional. "We need to have more long-term vision for how to use the limited resources we have for the biggest benefit to the people."

Mount Pleasant banker Chip Coffee agreed and added, "I think that's what Governor Sanford is trying to accomplish."

A big chunk of the state's future depends on developing human potential in schools.

"If you don't have the people available to do the jobs to do the work and if they don't have the skills, then you're not going to have what you need to get industry," Coffee said.

   

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One panelist said an example of how more planning is needed in education can be seen in how lottery funds are used to pay for tech college tuition. The amount of tuition assistance is variable because it is contingent on politics, the number of students and the money available. One semester, for example, students may pay nothing; for another, they may pay $500.

The lack of certainty creates confusion for students and administrators. If there were a long-term, sustainable funding plan that wasn't subjected to various whims, students and administrators would be able to plan their futures better.

Long-time Charleston Realtor Max Hill Jr. said the state also faces challenges in economic development planning.

Too often, parochial interests compete in ways that negatively impact a whole region, he said. For example, the three-county Charleston area draws a lot of economic development attention, much to the detriment to the ring of rural counties that surround it. If, however, a more regional planning effort were in place, more benefits could be spread to surrounding areas.

Hill said he believed the state was in the best spot to provide more regional economic growth planning, but it needed to take a leadership role to get things moving.

Another planning-related topic that came up at the lunch was standard fare - - how the state should tax its residents to be able to provide services.

Charlie Smith, another Realtor who plans to run for the S.C. House of Representatives next year, said he was concerned about proposals to get rid of property taxes in favor of sales or income taxes.

"When you shift taxes from property tax to sales tax, then you are disproportionately burdening moderate- and low-income people," he said. And if they have to pay more of their disposable income to sales tax, they'll have a harder time becoming homeowners, which would hurt the real estate industry, he added.

But another businessman who used to serve in the General Assembly said he thought cutting property taxes and boosting sales taxes because it would be fairer in the long run because it would spread the tax burden.

Interestingly, this businessman, who asked not to be identified, added the Statehouse seems to be filled with the same problems now - - education, taxes, growth - - as it was a dozen years ago when he served.

"It doesn't seem to change."

But during the lunch, most people - - Republicans and Democrats - - seemed relatively satisfied with state government, in spite of the last few years of budget cuts. More than anything, however, they wanted the state to plan better for the future.

If South Carolina continues to stick to a 1960's-era plan for economic development, education and financial management, it will remain behind. State government needs to be more strategic in how it approaches challenges and opportunities while keeping its long-term obligations to provide services to those in need.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
How to relax at Thanksgiving

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


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