Reform ethics law
No parents should settle for a D-minus on their child’s report card, not if they have hopes of that child succeeding not just in that class but in the world that lies before him or her.
Yet South Carolina lawmakers have seemed perfectly content with scores consistently that low — or lower — on the report card for government ethics laws. It’s inexcusable. The state ranked 36th among the 50 states in a report that demonstrated most states have room to improve their ethics laws. The highest grade given was a C.
Sure our state’s grade is up from an ‘F’ the year before on the Center for Public Integrity report, but that’s no thanks to any meaningful reform here.
For three years running, the South Carolina Legislature has stubbornly refused to hold itself accountable by passing ethics reform with any teeth. It consistently tries to weaken tough reforms, limit who can hold lawmakers accountable or simply refuse to be governed.
Why would it reform ethics laws, when the report calls state ethics laws a “Wild West” of loose laws and accountability where elected officials can do what they want with virtual impunity.
The report said South Carolina has a high “enforcement gap” between its ethics laws and how they are carried out; that it discourages citizens from requesting public information by charging excessive fees or threatening to punish people who make “excessive” requests; and that it has too much in unregulated political contributions.
Farmers need help
Extreme weather is a menace to all — but especially to farmers. And as South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers told us last week during a visit to this newspaper:
“Some years we have freezes, some years we have droughts, some years we have floods. This year, we’ve had all three.”
So this year our state’s farmers have suffered a triple whammy of costly, climate-driven setbacks. That presents a serious threat not just to them, but to the S.C. economy. This makes a strong argument for state relief to save farmers now on the brink of bankruptcy.
Further bolstering that case: The S.C. Board of Economic Advisors said last week it has found an extra $1.2 billion in the state coffers for the 2016-17 budget year.
Post & Courier
Address needs first, tax relief last
On its face, the idea of the state returning “extra” money to the taxpayer is an attractive one. Next year is an election year, and many state lawmakers would find it a lot easier to get re-elected if they can say they supported tax relief while their opponents supported even more government spending, regardless of the pressing needs.
These tax-relief advocates are right that government spending should be kept in check and extra money shouldn’t be seen as a blank check for state agencies. But the needs that we face as a state have to come first.
The first and most pressing need is repairing the infrastructure that was damaged by last month’s floods. Next up would be our state’s poorly maintained roads, highways and bridges. For years now, the Legislature has been debating how to best address a funding gap for infrastructure maintenance. It has used one-time money to help bridge the gap, but never has talked about a long-term solution. Although a long-term solution is needed, another one-time infusion would be welcome to plug the gap. Beyond that, the S.C. Supreme Court has ordered the state to address equity in funding between rich and poor schools districts — and that could be costly indeed. Found money as it may be, we should consider it a blessing and use it well. If, and only if the needs are all met adequately, tax relief may be an appropriate next step. It just can’t come first this time around.