Monday, January 26, 2009

Bluffton Today

No more 'boom-or-bust' budgeting

We had our second round of full-fledged budget meetings today. I came away with even more certainty that the financial process in our state is due for an overhaul, sooner rather than later. This boom or bust cycling makes rational budgeting nearly impossible. It creates hardship for our state employees when we have to shrink their missions to accommodate our fluctuating tax receipts.

For example, we had a meeting with the good people from Disability and Special Needs. They provide services for some of our most vulnerable citizens and do a great deal with not a lot of resources. Our job on the committee is to find areas where there are savings or cost efficiencies within their operation. Unfortunately, this usually means that there will be less we can do to help those in our state who really could use a helping hand.

We also had testimony from DHEC. This agency has endured cuts and rollbacks for years as the urgency of their mission becomes greater every day. They are currently working over in Sun City to help Pulte redo large areas of their stormwater system. DHEC support, critical expertise and oversight are crucial to the health of the waterways that receive the outfall from those ponds, not to mention the effect on the residents around the ponds.

DHEC/OCRM is an integral part of the effort to preserve the May River watershed from the degradation that seems to loom on the horizon. Instead of further cutting their budget, I would much prefer they got increases commensurate with their importance in the overall necessity of keeping South Carolina clean and green. Not this year.

We will do what is required to get the budget in balance. However, my hope is that this experience will help us to think more clearly about how we finance our state.

One area where there may be some movement is on the cigarette tax. My sense is that we will consider this option more realistically than we have in the past. Those dollars, if they materialize, should be directed largely toward the Medicaid match. Not only would we draw more federal dollars to the state coffers, we could more effectively address some of the effects of smoking by harnessing the taxes it generates.

One positive note this week is that I had a great conversation with representatives from a light manufacturing company that may be looking to locate in our area. They were particularly impressed with the new tax rules on LLCs that we managed to push through last session. They were also impressed with the packet of materials provided by the Hilton Head Island/ Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. As the port project moves closer to reality, with more and more companies coming to look over our area, the close cooperation we now enjoy between my office, the chamber, and the local governmental entities will assume an even greater importance.

We are talking about jobs, my friends. Good jobs that will allow our children to stay close to home at the completion of their education, if they choose. Jobs that will help us even out the ups and downs of the business cycles. Maybe with a few more good jobs, and a good dose of tax reform, we can avoid another session where our efforts are focused not on making government more efficient and effective, but simply on keeping to afloat.