Saturday, March 20, 2010

State, nation need to focus on what counts



By Andy Brack

Statehouse Report

MARCH 21, 2010 – With legislators in Washington struggling to pass health care reform and lawmakers in Columbia bickering over the state’s dismal budget, an air of passivity hovers around government.

Why can’t our leaders get anything done? What would the founding fathers think of these challenged politicians?

You’d think with a Democratic majority in Congress that health care reform, after a year of debate, would be a cinch, particularly with a lot of polling showing it to be what the majority of Americans want. But even with reports of how a health insurance company withdrew coverage when clients got sick, as highlighted this week in a S.C. Supreme Court case, squeaky wheels and Tea Partiers fill the airwaves with a lot of shouting.  In turn, middle-of-the-road leaders are showing they look more middle-of-the-road than anything else.

And in Columbia, the S.C. House passed a budget after working through Wednesday night.  There seemed to be a backslapping air about what they got done after pulling an all-nighter when, in truth, they labored to get a modest 30-cent cigarette tax through in a year so lean that it should have been a slam dunk.  On top of that, they wasted a lot of time talking about issues that divide us – like abortion – instead of focusing on things that need to be done.

In a time that demands pragmatism, solid leadership and vision, there seems to be little of any of it.  With this as a background, here are some questions that linger:

Mad. Why aren’t more South Carolinians mad about all of the cuts in government?  Most people seem apathetic and complacent, willing to accept whatever is done or just not paying attention.  With about $2 billion in cuts in state government in the last two years, the state can’t provide the same level of services, although people expect the same services.  When will people wake up and realize that these things cost money – that after hundreds of millions of cuts, there isn’t a lot of waste, fraud and abuse out there?  When will they realize the best way out of the problems we have is to invest more in education, not less?

Misguided. What’s with all of this anger by the so-called Tea Partiers?  Seems like the real reason they’re mad at government is because a black Democrat became president.  Why didn’t they raise any Cain when the GOP-controlled Congress spent trillions of our children’s legacies to increase the national debt to historic highs?

Jobs. Instead of focusing on creating real jobs, the S.C. House this month passed an “economic development competitiveness” bill that would cut corporate income taxes, improve a closing fund for big projects and generate some incentives. Come election time, politicians holler and harrumph about doing more for small businesses.  But now when they can do something, why do they continue to kowtow to big business and its big-box solutions?

Coordination. Does the legislature’s right hand know what the left hand is doing with corrections?  Budget makers originally wanted to cut 100 parole agency staff members – at a time when the state Senate is pushing a measure to give early-release to thousands of non-violent offenders to save money.  The catch?  Those folks would have to be monitored by the parole agency.  Huh?

Public policy matters.  Health care should be available for all Americans regardless of past conditions just like it is in every other major industrialized country. Education should get more money, not less, to make South Carolina more competitive and less backward.  People who want services like good roads, police protection, libraries, colleges and more should expect to pay a little more, not less, if they want the state to do better.

Screaming and shouting and focusing on the inane do little to move America forward.  The founding fathers knew that. Today’s leaders need to remember it.

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at brack@statehousereport.com.

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