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Editorial: McMaster right to focus on education, building SC workforce


SC Gov. Henry McMaster delivers his 2020 State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday.

South Carolina’s biggest and most important challenge, far and away, is providing all the children in this state with a good education.

Without that education, children wind up in dead-end jobs that force the rest of us to provide for their families; some become criminals, and we have to pay for more police and courts and prisons, and may even become their victims.

With it, they grow up to be productive, contributing members of our communities, whose talents entice companies to create good-paying jobs and convince parents of the next generation that this is a place to raise their families. That is: people who make our state stronger and more prosperous.

So it might seem obvious that Gov. Henry McMaster would again make improving our schools the centerpiece of his State of the State address on Wednesday. After all, the annual speech to a joint session of the General Assembly traditionally provides an overview of what our state is doing well and poorly and focuses on what the governor wants to do to improve it. Although he correctly told a receptive Legislature that “The path to prosperity goes straight through the classroom,” education hasn’t always been so clearly the priority of our governors. We welcome his clear focus.

Echoing his executive budget proposal from last week, Mr. McMaster called on lawmakers to follow up last year’s significant teacher salary increases with $3,000 pay raises for all teachers and to finish work on a House-passed package of reforms that improve working conditions for teachers and make it easier to save failing schools and districts from leaders who are overseeing that failure. Most significantly, he asked them to expand the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program to poor students in all school districts.

“Our lower-income five-year-old children are increasingly entering kindergarten unprepared for learning, lacking the necessary literacy and language skills,” the governor told lawmakers, adding: “The facts are clear: to change the path of a child’s future, to enhance the prosperity of our economy, to maximize the success of our state, we have to make sure that every student is ready to learn when he or she enters the classroom.”

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Mr. McMaster also urged legislators to improve and expand our workforce by supporting collaboratives between school districts, technical colleges and businesses, increasing state funding for need-based scholarships and providing enough money for colleges and universities to avoid tuition increases — all smart investments in tomorrow’s economy.

And he wisely focused on long-overdue upgrades to make our prisons more secure, and pay raises to attract and retain corrections officers and other state law enforcement officials.

S.C. budget writers started talking about tax cuts after they learned last week that they’ll have an additional $1.8 billion to spend in next year’s budget. But even if it made sense to raise or reduce taxes based on one year’s revenue, it wouldn’t make sense in this case, because the additional revenue is largely the result of budget forecasters being too conservative in the past two years.

Mr. McMaster also should be commended for addressing flooding, including a vow to upgrade the state’s drainage systems, protect its marshes and improve its resiliency plans. He also called for ensuring that cities and towns have access to recovery funds, but the state also can and should do more to help raise money for preventative work.

We’re not convinced that lawmakers need to send out a second round of tax “rebates,” as the governor proposed. And certainly they shouldn’t embark on a five-year phase-in of a 15% reduction in income taxes, which by the final year would cut state revenue by more than all the additional spending Mr. McMaster is asking lawmakers to approve this session.

Cutting taxes is a must-do if taxes are so high that they’re hindering economic development, and it’s a good thing to do if you’re collecting more revenue than you need to meet your obligations. But neither is the case in South Carolina. Although we like several of Mr. McMaster’s funding initiatives, they don’t cover all of our needs. Until they do, lawmakers should hold the tax cuts.

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