All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
Our South Carolina state legislature is now back in session, and due to COVID-19 funding support to states from the federal coffers they are, comparatively speaking, awash in money. In preparing the budget for next fiscal year – and funding notional emergencies the present year – our elected representatives are in the unusual position of having considerably more money than they had anticipated. What are their plans for that money? There are a number of “unfunded priorities” from past years. Let me mention just two rather large ones.
The first is Public Education. Those who follow such things will remember that there was a court order to our state legislature to fix the inequities in Public School funding for a number of financially poor South Carolina counties, including some nearby (Abbeville County) but mostly on the I-95 corridor. If memory serves, well over ten years elapsed between the date when the court directed the legislature to fix that problem and when, finally, a compromise was reached that was mostly a band-aid rather than a cure. Why just a band-aid? The legislature argued before the court that we just didn’t have the money to do more than provide minimally adequate public education to students in those counties. With this year’s infusion of funds, is this being addressed? Apparently not; what one hears the most is a plan to expand the system of “vouchers” so parents can choose the best schools for their children, public or private, with the state paying part of the bill if they choose private. It sounds great for the state to enable parents to pull their children out of inadequate public schools, but wouldn’t it be better to fix the problem rather than to escape it?
The second is our used-to-be-great state system of highways and bridges. Remember when the talk was about raising the gasoline tax, and how much it would cost and how many years it would take to clear the backlog of needed highway repairs? The decision was made to raise the tax less than the fiscal requirement and not augment highway funds from the general tax stream because, well, we just didn’t have the money. In 2022 and planning for 2023, we now have much more untapped funding, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about taking a large bite out of that highway and bridges maintenance backlog. Instead, there is talk of using the funding to lower everybody’s taxes. To me, this is disingenuous rhetoric; everybody wants lower taxes (wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t pay any taxes at all?), but everybody wants to fix our highways and bridges, too. We can get started now, and without needing to raise taxes to do it; but let’s not lower taxes and, once again, kick that can down the road – the road with all the potholes in it.
I am sure that readers of The Edgefield Advertiser have yourown ideas as to where our state legislature can put these federal dollars to best use. Perhaps by funding the Medicaid Expansion that has been neglected in South Carolina but put in place in most other states, that is, to increase the availability of health insurance to more of our neighbors who really need it? Or to develop a world-class reputation for Clemson, USC, and South Carolina State for more than just athletic prowess? Why don’t we strive to be in the Top Twenty-five college rankings in Chemistry or English or Political Science? My top two funding priorities for our South Carolina legislature are Public Education first and Highways and Bridges second. What are yours?