To the Contrary

January 17, 2009

Legislative priorities

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says lawmakers need to change their mind-set. Rather than focusing on their individual districts, they need to concentrate on the state as a whole. They need to look at the future rather than short-term goals.

She is correct. Those two changes would make a tremendous difference in the way South Carolina is run. ....

The short-term focus of the General Assembly also hurts the state. ...

... Lawmakers need to be less concerned with preserving their own power and look instead at creating a state government that works better for the state while consuming less of its money.

Lawmakers oppose government restructuring because they want to preserve their powers and privileges. They like the fact that they can control the executive branch by appointing the various boards and commissions that run state agencies. They ignore the fact that under these boards, these agencies are wasteful and unaccountable.

If they were focused on efficiency, accountability and providing service to the people of the state, they would shift these departments into the governor's Cabinet.

Lawmakers started a new session. They should do so with a new perspective on how to serve the state.

Economic development

One of the best moves the South Carolina General Assembly ever made came in 2002, when legislators designated a fat chunk of South Carolina Education Lottery earnings to establish Centers for Economic Excellence at the state's three research universities. Since then, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina have devoted $66 million to knowledge-based economic development.

Now comes Gov. Mark Sanford with a recession-year budget proposal that these centers be shut down and the money diverted to more urgent needs, such as health care and K-12 education. ...

... Many legislators could be tempted to back Sanford's effort to divert the centers' money into more immediate public needs. Considering that the state in fiscal 2010 will spend more than $1 billion less than its original budget for the current fiscal year, visionary thinking on economic development may be in short supply at the Statehouse this year.

We're not in a position, therefore, to say that shutting down the centers would be a mistake. But we can and do contend that Sanford's recommendation feels like a mistake in the making. ...

... The hope must be that legislators follow the lead of Dr. Harris Pastides, USC president, who recommends protecting the centers' current budgets until better times arrive. The study (which we believe to be accurate) validates the investments made since 2002. Backing away now, though times are tough, could dash the state's well-founded hopes for long-term economic growth.

The Greenville New on disabilities agency, Jan. 13:

A state agency serving the mentally and physically disabled failed to conduct follow-up reviews of facilities when it found expired food, missing smoke detectors and water heaters set too hot, among other problems, according to a recent audit. The audit also found that the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs failed to spend millions of dollars for an autism program and that some abusive staff members who should have been fired may have remained on the job. ...

The audit found that DDSN reviews the quality of its adult residential facilities one-third as often as other states review such facilities, according to Greenville News writer Ben Szobody. In addition, the agency fails to conduct independent quality reviews often used in other states. That could contribute to health and safety risks. ...

The audit also found that South Carolina is one of the few states whose residential facilities receive licensing reviews by a unit of DDSN, not an outside entity. The audit said that this creates a potential for conflicts of interest that, at worst, could endanger the well being of clients. ...

The audit provides a number of recommendations for improving DDSN procedures. State officials should make sure those recommendations are observed. A comprehensive follow-up audit is needed as well to ensure that DDSN is adequately and responsibly serving the needs of its vulnerable clients.

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