If South Carolina is famous for anything, it is the willingness to draw a line in the sand, to tell the world “enough is enough,” to push back when we feel outsiders impinging upon our sovereignty. We stood up to the Lord’s Proprietors in 1718. We put the British out in 1776, and when they captured Charleston in 1780, we put them out again. And I don’t have to remind you what happened in 1860. We have demonstrated that we will face any foe and pay any price to defend our state’s honor. Honor means a lot to South Carolinians.
But for all our pugnacity in dealing with outsiders, we have shown a sad lack of courage in dealing with our own inner demons — and there are many.
Right now this state faces a budget crisis of historic proportions. It is not unreasonable to say that the way we live now and for generations to come is at stake. As we go into the third year of economic decline, the state is facing an $800 million budget shortfall. And that is on top of nearly $2 billion in budget cuts over the last two years.
According to the Associated Press, the bulk of the cutting will come to those programs that aid the poor, young, and elderly.
Education? Our lawmakers are talking about cutting 10 days out of the school year in a state that already has one of the lowest performing school systems in the nation. So much for all those years of bold talk about making South Carolina’s schools competitive.
Healthcare? The state’s Medicaid system, which provides for the poor and indigent, faces a $228 million deficit.
Nourishment? The Department of Social Services has cut staff by 14 percent, even as food stamp demand is up 51 percent and demand for temporary financial assistance is up 44 percent.
Environmental quality? The Department of Health and Environmental Control no longer has the manpower to adequately monitor public waterways for mercury and PCBs.
Make no mistake, the budget crisis — and the way our leaders have chosen to face it — represents a major retreat from the challenges that face our state. A retreat from education standards. A retreat from a clean and safe environment. A retreat from the dream of adequate food and medical care for the most vulnerable. A retreat from our dreams of becoming a socially and economically developed state, competitive with other states in something other than football and baseball.
This budget represents a withdrawal, a turning in upon ourselves, a shrinking of our hopes and aspirations. We are burning the bulkheads to roast our marshmallows, because without a healthy, educated population, we do not have the raw material for development.
Will outside investors come here to build their factories and hire our people, as Republicans are so fond of saying? Sure, they will go anywhere with low wages and environmental standards. Just ask a Mexican or Malaysian. They will build their factories here all right. And they will import their skilled workers, live in gated communities, send their children to private schools, have their private security force, and maybe even have their own private water, sewer, and electric services. And they will hire us to mow their lawns and cook their meals, because we will not be qualified to do anything else.
Those who are old enough may remember that things used to be different. There used to be hope. There used to be talk of better schools, better jobs, better days to come. And they may remember that in the Great Recession of the early 21st century, our leaders surrendered to fear and greed.
They may remember that we did not draw a line in the sand. We did not say we will stand up, we will do whatever it takes to save our state, our environment, our way of life. We did not say it was a matter of honor that we protect and educate our young, that we care for our most vulnerable.
It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Our leaders might ask us — especially the most prosperous among us — to reach a little deeper in our pockets to support the services and agencies that keep this state functioning as a modern society. But in this crisis, Gov.-elect Nikki Haley promises to do away with corporate income taxes.
Of course, Republicans will argue that lower taxes stimulate growth. But in a state with some of the lowest taxes in the nation, why is our economy in the toilet? Today, with the lowest federal taxes in 60 years, why is the nation’s economy going down the crapper?
And if you ask a GOPer what that whooshing noise is, he would probably tell you it’s the sound of progress and prosperity sweeping us forward. He would be wrong.