Opinion Columns & Blogs

What's he got against kids?

I'm beginning to think Gov. Mark Sanford hates children.

In recent days, he's vetoed legislation that would allow South Carolina children to ride new, safer school buses; provide insurance coverage to autistic children; and keep small children from riding all-terrain vehicles.

Thankfully, state lawmakers overturned the first two vetoes, but they were unable to muster enough votes to overcome the latter, so kiddies may continue to take themselves out of the gene pool on ATVs.

Sanford would never admit he's insensitive to the needs of young South Carolinians. He is, after all, a loving dad, who frequently is photographed with his children. Rather, he stands firm in his belief that laws usually create more problems than they solve. His answer to most problems is to reduce taxes for those who can most afford to pay, hoping the private sector will come to the rescue.

On the autism bill, both the House and Senate unanimously voted to squash Sanford's veto. One lawmaker, Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Pickens, said, "He has four healthy children, and I don't think he has ever met anybody who didn't have healthy children."

In response, Sanford's office said only that the provision would raise health-care costs. Well, duh!

In vetoing a bill that put the state on track to replace its aging school bus fleet, the governor said he would prefer to privatize that service.

It makes sense to ask why South Carolina is the only state that operates a statewide bus system, but the biggest issue facing school transportation is that the Legislature has failed to allocate money to replace worn-out buses. As a result, they break down frequently, and children are late for school.

Sanford would rather that kids miss school than compromise his libertarian principles. His children attend private school, so his perspective differs from those of harried principals who wonder whether they'll have enough buses to get kids to school the next day.

Since his veto was sustained (by three votes), Sanford obviously wasn't alone in thinking the state needn't prevent children from riding suicide cycles, also known as ATVs. In rejecting the bill, which would have banned children under 6 from riding an ATV and required riders under 15 to take a safety course and wear a helmet and goggles, the governor said such decisions ought to rest with parents.

Duh, again! Think about his logic. If every parent acted responsibly, would we need laws prohibiting minors from drinking, smoking, driving too soon, entering contracts or playing hooky?

Where does this man live? Lake Wobegone?

The youth-related cause Sanford has championed most fervently is tuition tax credits. He's a figurehead in a plot to divert state revenue to private schools under the pretext of helping children escape "failing" schools. Neither he nor the big-money lobby behind this effort can explain how tax credits would improve the education level of children in the poorest districts.

The governor isn't solely to blame for the worst anti-child legislation in recent years, the Property Tax Reform Act of 2006, which wrested fiscal control from local school districts and likely will force drastic cuts in school operations, especially in fast-growing areas such as York and Lancaster counties. Although he didn't push that bill early on, Sanford didn't veto it, either, nor did he use his bully pulpit to oppose it.

No issue brings the governor's indifference to the plight of young South Carolinians into sharper focus than cigarette taxes. This state's tobacco tax (7 cents a pack) is the lowest in the country. Because cost is a deterrent to underage smoking, one could infer that the Palmetto State values children less than do the other 49 states. Advocates for raising the tax to the national average say the added revenue could boost the state match for Medicaid patients -- many of whom are children -- and to enhance anti-smoking campaigns directed at the young.

For his part, Sanford would support a modest increase in cigarette taxes, provided the money went to lower taxes for wealthy South Carolinians!

Perhaps the fat cats can use this windfall to buy more expensive cigars and blow smoke rings to amuse our children.

We wouldn't want to forget them altogether.

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