To the Contrary

Legislative look back

This might be remembered as the year of acrimony, of brinkmanship and, in the end, of compromise. Unfortunately, not all compromises are equal: While the good ones pluck the best ideas from all sides, the ones our Legislature produces too often draw on the worst ideas from all sides. This year was no exception.

And so what this won't be remembered as is the year the Legislature finally acted on long-simmering problems that keep our state from reaching its potential. ...

Our government long ago grew too large and complex for a part-time Legislature to manage, yet lawmakers have never shed their colonial predecessors' fear of an empowered executive. So they keep the executive branch fragmented among nine separately elected officers and dozens of part-time boards so no one person can be held accountable when things go wrong, no one person can act to make things go right, and nothing can change without the blessing of a Legislature that is designed to prevent action rather than cause it. ...

Like our government itself, our funding mechanism is the product of a world that no longer exists. It relies far too heavily on a sales tax designed in the pre-service age, has too many special exemptions to count, charges low- and middle-income taxpayers a higher portion of their income than it charges the wealthiest, and discourages activities we support. ...

Worst of all, if history is any indication, all that greasy bacon legislators will be hauling back home in the coming months is likely to win them voters' forgiveness -- and a free pass to return for another term of accomplishing nothing.

Rules for state budgeting

South Carolina legislators finally approved a budget last week, but they did it by using a different set of rules than they established for local governments. The 2007-2008 budget is $7.4 billion -- 12 percent higher than the 2006-2007 budget of $6.6 billion, which exceeded the previous year's $5.8 billion by 14 percent. ...

If legislators had to play by the rules mandated for local governments, we wouldn't see a 26 percent growth in spending in two years. ...

Had legislators approved a rule limiting state spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth, it probably would have been below 5 percent.

Instead of passing a hugely swollen budget, members of the Beaufort City Council sent City Manager Scott Dadson and staff back to the calculators to refigure last week, seeking to lower a tax increase. ...

Government, especially the state, must slow the rate of spending to a reasonable amount. Government has many needs, but so do the taxpayers.

Remembering the nine

June 22 was a tear-stained, official day of mourning that brought with it reassuring promises that the sacrifices of the nine city of Charleston firemen who died in an inferno of flames five days earlier won't be forgotten. ...

The loss of life was the greatest in a single incident in this historic city's firefighting history and is the greatest in more than a decade in this country with the exception of the 9-11 terrorism attacks. Already, there is reason to believe that the tragedy will result in a needed re-examination of state building codes generally and, specifically, laws that allow older buildings to escape fire sprinkler requirements. ...

The immediate and extended firefighting family have been the recipients of an enormous flood of affection and assistance from throughout the country. Virtually within hours of the news of the tragedy, the community moved into high gear with fundraising efforts for the families, ranging from television telethons to two children selling their drawings to relatives and neighbors ...

Fire Chief Rusty Thomas knew them all personally, had hired six of the nine and promoted all of them to the ranks they held. They represented 130 years of service to the city, with three totaling 90 years. Two had retired only to return.

He loved to talk about his men, he said, and he did, one by one, with stories that had the huge audience laughing amid the tears. "These guys gave it all," he said, and they gave it every single day they went to work. ... They gave it all to our community."

Let's not forget.

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