A score of 2 out of 11 isn’t a passing grade, especially if you’ve had 11 years to get the job done.
In January 2009, we outlined 11 broad policy goals to encourage state lawmakers to be bold and fix problems to make a real difference in the lives of everyday South Carolinians. In describing these “Palmetto Priorities,” we wrote,
“If you don’t have a policy map for where you want to be headed, you will flounder in proposal after proposal.”
During the past decade, we’ve removed two priorities that were accomplished — increasing the state’s cigarette tax to $1 a pack to curb smoking and associated health risks, and increasing voter registration to 75 percent to bolster participation in our civic system.
But we still have a long way to go. Here is what’s still left:
Jobs. Legislators haven’t developed a Cabinet-level state post dedicated to adding and retaining 10,000 small business jobs per year. Politicians talk about helping small businesses. This would force them to.
Education. Eleven years ago, we called on the state to cut its high school dropout rate in half as a way to show improvements in education. Still not done. Instead, they keep fiddling on the cheap and trying to privatize public responsibilities. Earth to legislators: The best economic development plan for South Carolina’s future is to radically improve education, not nibble around the edges. Get to work to cut the dropout rate in half by 2025.
Health care. Not all South Carolinians have affordable and accessible health care that optimizes preventive care. Instead of making progress on this priority, South Carolina is regressing, working to undercut affordable care with Medicaid work requirements and failing to expand Medicaid. Fixing health care will save piles of money in the long run, as healthy people don’t need as much expensive care.
Environment. In 2009, we called for a state energy policy requiring producers to generate 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. While the state has made strides in better organizing a policy on energy, we’ve still got a long way to go to meet renewable goals.
Taxes. Still needed: Remove special interest sales tax exemptions that are outdated for the state’s 21st century economy. Special-interest tax breaks cost billions in state revenue every year. Review exemptions and get rid of ones no longer are needed. Also, work on overhauling the state’s entire tax structure through reimplementation of reasonable property taxes and fairer sales and income taxes.
Corrections. We’ve made outstanding progress in reducing the prison population by 25% by 2020 through creative alternative sentencing programs for nonviolent offenders. You might be surprised to learn that between 2009 and this year, the prison population dropped 21.5 percent — from 24,734 inmates at the state Department of Corrections to 19,416. Let’s continue the hard work — and maybe we can meet this goal by this time next year.
Roads. We called for lawmakers to strengthen all bridges and upgrade all state roads through creative highway financing and maintenance programs. South Carolina made progress by finally increasing a tax on gas, but funding continues to be too low, especially for more public transit in metro areas.
Politics. Still on the list: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.
In recent years, we added two more priorities, which flounder:
Gun reform. Close the “Charleston loophole” to extend the waiting period for purchasing a gun to at least five days to allow federal examiners more time for background checks. This is low-hanging fruit for 2020. Get it done and consider other reasonable reforms to reduce gun violence in South Carolina.
Poverty. Develop a broad-based anti-poverty agenda that includes the jobs, education and health care components listed above to help lift the almost 1 in 5 South Carolinians in poverty into better conditions. Republicans need to stop pandering for tax cuts that help the people at the top. Democrats need to be louder about ways to create more prosperity for everyone.
The new year is around the corner. Let’s get busier.