After a legislative year where diddly met squat at the Statehouse, state legislators must get some real things done in 2021 to help the people of South Carolina.
For the last dozen years, we’ve pushed for several broad policy goals to serve as a map of where the Palmetto State should head. Without a map, “you will flounder in proposal after proposal,” we wrote in 2009. That’s turned out to be mostly true, with only two initiatives — higher cigarette taxes and increased voter registration — coming off our list.
These days after months of people hurting, lawmakers should focus their zeal on policies that will really make a difference.
HEALTH CARE: Is it right, particularly during a pandemic, that hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians have no affordable or accessible health care that optimizes preventive care? No. Lawmakers need to fix the state’s health care system — including totally overhauling the state’s health agency — by expanding Medicaid, investing more in telehealth, helping rural hospitals and more.
JOBS: Small businesses are crying for help after the pandemic crushed local bars, restaurants, services and shops. We again urge legislators to develop a cabinet-level state post dedicated to adding and retaining 10,000 small business jobs per year.
EDUCATION: Is it right that too many of our students go to underfunded, underperforming schools? Nope. The best economic development plan for South Carolina’s future is to radically improve education, not nibble around the edges. Get to work to cut the dropout rate in half by 2025.
ENVIRONMENT: Instead of hyperventilating about Santee Cooper’s future, the state needs to put a huge emphasis on renewable energy. The state Public Service Commission seems to be making some strides in holding utilities more accountable, but legislators need to insist on much higher adoption of renewable energy.
TAXES: Is it right that more sales in South Carolina are exempted from sales taxes than those that are taxed? Heck no. Lawmakers must remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions that cost billions in state revenue every year. Get rid of exemptions no longer are needed. Also work on overhauling the state’s entire tax structure through re-implementation of reasonable property taxes and fairer sales and income taxes.
GUN REFORM: Is it right that five legislative sessions have passed since the murder of nine worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston with state officials doing little to close the “Charleston loophole” to extend the waiting period for purchasing a gun? Absolutely not. Legislators need to move this year on a proposal to require at least five days to allow federal examiners more time for background checks. Reduce gun violence.
ROADS: Gradual increases to gas taxes in recent years are making a difference, but with potholes still out there, particularly on rural roads, there’s a lot more work to be done. Special emphasis needs to be made in boosting funding levels for more public transit in metro areas.
POVERTY. Is it right that South Carolina, with its world-class companies and billions in tourism dollars, still ranks among the poorest of states? Absolutely not. Lawmakers must focus broadly on reducing poverty, instead of fiddling around. They must develop an anti-poverty agenda that includes the jobs, education and health care components listed above to help lift the almost one in five South Carolinians in poverty into better conditions. Republicans need to stop pandering for tax cuts that help the people at the top. Democrats need to be louder about ways to create more prosperity for everyone.
CORRECTIONS: There has been good progress in reducing the prison population in recent years through creative alternative sentencing programs for non-violent offenders. You might be surprised to learn that between 2009 and this year, the prison population dropped a third — from 24,734 inmates at the state Department of Corrections to 16,333. Now let’s make sure the facilities are better staffed and safer.
POLITICS: With Democrats losing ground in the legislature in the 2020 elections, it’s more vital than ever that the state have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance. One-party rule doesn’t really work to foster innovation.
It’s time to get down to real work, not just talking about it.
Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.