Gov. Henry McMaster and state House Republicans want to cut income taxes a whopping $600 million every year and up to $1 billion a year within five years. Key Senate leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, says he wants even more — a $900 million cut plus a one-time billion-dollar rebate.
But these efforts simply smell, particularly in light of an election just months away. What’s even more disturbing is that nobody seems to be thinking of the long-term impact of taking billions out of state coffers when pressing priorities, such as South Carolina’s substandard education system, continue to go lacking.
Over 10 years, a tax cut of this size would remove about $8 billion from the state’s budget. Not sure how much that really is? Think about it in terms of millions. It’s the equivalent of 8,000 bundles of one dollar bills, bundled by the million. It’s four times the amount the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend on the most expensive single construction undertaking in Charleston’s long history — building a huge new seawall around the entire peninsula. In a poor state that has underinvested in public education for generations, can we really afford to spend less on real needs?
South Carolina perennially ranks at the national bottom in delivering high-quality K-12 education. Sure, there are pockets of good schools in some metropolitan areas, but as a whole, this state doesn’t offer a broad, top-notch educational system that’s the envy of anywhere.
In fact, we just barely keep up because we keep doing what we’ve always done — underinvesting to get by, which keeps the legacy of the state’s plantation culture alive. Don’t believe it? Guess which state underfunded public education by $4.4 billion between 2010 and 2018 by not following its own state law to supply enough money to pay for the required base student cost?
The only way we’re going to get out of the education ditch we’ve been digging since the 1800s is to start investing at a higher rate so we can catch up to other states, including North Carolina and Georgia, which continue to invest more to give opportunities to their students so they can succeed in the 21st century economy.
So think about the ramifications of taking $1 million some 8,000 times from state coffers over 10 years. If we put that kind of money into public education, we could build 200 new $40 million schools, such as Harbor View Elementary on James Island, which would serve 100,000 South Carolina students. Or we could start paying our invaluable teachers much better, instead of just striving for averages. Or we could dig out of other underinvestment holes in health care, prisons, roads, bridges or flooding.
Let’s stop feeding at the policy bottom. Let’s not continue to lose our children because of an education system that’s failing them. Let’s not continue to miss opportunities for new industries because world-class talent doesn’t want to move here thanks to our schools. Let’s throw away shiny balls like income tax cuts and pay attention to what really matters — moving South Carolina forward.
For generations, South Carolina has had misplaced priorities.The General Assembly needs to get its act together and make solid, continuing, large investments in public education. More rainy days are ahead. Lawmakers need to think strategically about our taxes, for a change, instead of playing our next generation for suckers.
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