Recent legislative sessions have been wholly unspectacular in terms of lifting up South Carolinians. It’s as if the whole notion of “common good” has flown the Statehouse coop.
Adults who voluntarily got vaccines for polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles and mumps have gone off the rails about inoculating people for coronavirus and worked actively to stop healthful practices (masks) to cut the spread of the virus. Education reform withered on the vine. Expanding health insurance for the poor continues to languish in South Carolina. Tax fairness and equity has been ignored. Even closing a gun loophole to make sure bad people don’t get guns has gone nowhere.
So here’s a policy booster shot: Legislators must act in the public interest for the common good, not to legislate in the interest of a political party, a district or a personal belief system. Republicans in control need to do more talking with Democrats, not at them. Democrats need to point fewer fingers and try to find better compromises.
Here’s our annual list of Palmetto Priorities — policy proposals that South Carolina lawmakers should use as a map to promote the common good. Without such a map, we wrote in 2009, “you will flounder in proposal after proposal.”
HEALTH CARE: Is it right, particularly during a pandemic, that hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians still 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. Stop bickering about masks and individual freedom and, instead, think of the common good by staying out of the way of solid advice from health professionals.
EDUCATION: Is it right that too many of our students go to underfunded, underperforming schools? For teachers to need two jobs to pay bills? Nope. The best economic development plan for South Carolina’s future is to radically improve education, not nibble around the edges.
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. And how about passing a minimum wage of $15 an hour so people can make a real living?
ENVIRONMENT: Focus more on renewable energy and practical ways people can inject more green living into their daily lives: More solar power; offshore wind power production; incentives for solar living; and energy savings.
TAXES: Is it right that more sales in South Carolina are exempted from sales taxes than those that are taxed? Lawmakers must remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions that cost billions in state revenue every year. 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: Legislators need to move this year on a proposal to close the “Charleston loophole” to require at least five days to allow federal examiners more time for background checks.
ROADS: Gradual increases to gas taxes in recent years are making a difference, but with potholes still out there, 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: State legislators 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 but there are still issues that need to be addressed to improve staffing and facilities, particularly for juvenile offenders.
POLITICS: One-party rule doesn’t really work to foster innovation. Maybe that’s why we’re last on all of the good lists. There’s still time to change election maps in redistricting to make them fairer for all.
Let’s get down to work to do what’s been uncommon – acting for the common good. Happy holidays and best wishes for an energized new year.
Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: email@example.com.