Economic development has been the hallmark of Nikki Haley’s first two years as governor, and in Wednesday night’s State of the State address she began connecting the dots between that effort and the need to improve both public education and infrastructure.
The Legislature needs to follow the governor’s lead — and give her some better ideas along the way and go beyond her tentative proposals.
Gov. Haley’s offer to begin “a conversation” on education with legislative leaders should be met with the accommodation that overdue school reforms demand. While she was short on details, legislators should be prepared to fill in the blanks with their own ideas.
The governor recognizes the inequities of the funding formula and the uneven educational results it produces, but didn’t offer a specific alternative.
The state, she said has “to figure out a better way to bring up the schools in the poorer parts of our state, and history shows that we cannot count on their own depressed local tax bases and restrictive federal dollars to do it. ... We need to better serve all the children in South Carolina.”
She added, however, “I am not one who believes that more money is the answer to our education problems. There are other bigger factors, including poverty and broken families.”
The fact that poverty equals a lack of money is an indication of the underlying reason for the disparities in education resources across the state.
There is no shortage of legislators who have committed themselves to education reform. This should be an area where lawmakers can offer leadership.
On infrastructure, the governor’s recognition of what she accurately called “our crumbling infrastructure” is timely, but her solution isn’t adequate to the problem. The state will need far more funding that the $90 million she has proposed. The more recent estimates put the shortfall at $29 billion over the next 20 years.
“South Carolina has announced ourself as the new superstar of American manufacturing,” she said. “We need roads and bridges that match the quality of the companies that manufacture in our great state.”
Providing those roads and bridges will require more than a comparative pittance. It will require the Legislature to finally approve an increase in the state’s gas tax, long one of the lowest in the nation. The gas tax should function as a user fee, with at least 30 percent being paid by motorists and truckers from out of state.
So Gov. Haley’s pledge to “not now, not ever — support raising the gas tax” simply isn’t a solution.
The state has been following that shortsighted line since 1987, and it is the main reasons that our roads and bridges are in their present substandard condition. As a recent report to the DOT observed, current funding will cover regular repaving on secondary roads every 119 years.
The governor did offer encouraging ideas for ethics reform, governmental reorganization and regulatory reform to encourage business growth. Those proposals should further guide the legislative agenda this year.
Unfortunately, the cyber security problem at the Department of Revenue is likely to overshadow the reorganization effort.
But it shouldn’t. Reorganization isn’t about giving more power to a specific governor. It’s about recognizing that executive functions of government should be under the authority of the state’s chief executive, not boards and commissions.
Gov. Haley has proven herself over the last two years on economic development — and fairly called the state of the state “productive.” The efforts of her administration have been central to bringing, by her accounting, 31,574 jobs, $6 billion in investment, with new development in 45 of the state’s 46 counties.
Her continuing efforts to that end deserve the Legislature’s support.
So does her pitch for legislative cooperation in other areas, such as education and infrastructure — where she clearly needs lawmakers’ help.