Monday, January 5, 2009

Tough times Open Door For Real Reforms

The constitutionally prescribed date for the beginning of session is the second Tuesday in January (Art III, sec. 9). Friends, that is a week from tomorrow and we have been running hard to get ready.

The economic chickens (so to speak) of 2008 are coming home to roost in 2009. All the assumptions we began the budget season with are long evaporated, and a big portion of our job in the short haul is to adjust the size of state government to fit the dollars we are likely to have. Even those dollars are somewhat speculative right now. In many ways, the state government is something of a trailing indicator of the health of the economy. All those economic catastrophes that you have either read about, or more likely experienced to some degree, are now showing up as plummeting state tax revenues.

The o­nly real up side to all this dislocation is that going forward, I believe it will be easier for me to sell my ideas of realistic fund balances and reserves. As a businessman in a cyclical business, I have always tried to be conservative and prudent in holding a modest reserve to be able to adjust to the unexpected. Even so, the unexpected is always more expensive and lasts longer than o­ne would hope. For years, I have been a legislative exponent of the wisdom gained from those hard lessons. Fortunately, we have paid down the trust fund balances over the last few years. We have also accumulated some small reserves. Those reserves, however, have been overwhelmed by the recession.

This is not to say that everything is doom and gloom. There is no better time to pass needed reforms than when the old system proves itself to be flawed. There is nothing like hard times to help some of my more spendthrift colleagues see the benefits of efficiency and frugality. And as a donor county delegation with an enhanced collection of committee assignments, Beaufort County is in a good position to pursue some of our equity issues that have been allowed to become pretty outrageous, with the Education Finance Act (EFA) formulas being a prime example.

Finally, I want to touch o­n a local issue that needs some attention. The United Way of the Lowcountry is having a tough time making their fundraising goal. The economic downturn has diminished their normally robust donor base. These folks run a tight ship and provide funding for a whole raft of good services, many of which are facing cuts from other sources as well. Don’t wait for them to call you or your company. In Bluffton and Hilton Head, the number to call is 686-4304. Call the number and the volunteer will tell you where to send your check. Times are hard but if you can afford it, make the call and send a check. Begin your new year with a gift that will help take care of the home folks.