Monday, February 23, 2009

If you're not on the bus today, you're not helping

Bluffton Today

Today is the day for you to show you care about the May River and the pollution problem that is likely to close a portion of the river to shellfishing. The bus is leaving from Bluffton Village (close to the post office) at 3 p.m. with a group of your friends and neighbors who will attend the Beaufort County Council meeting in Beaufort. They will go on the record as supporting the county/town cooperative effort to deal with this very serious issue. You need to be with them.

Chairman Weston Newton laid out the scope of the problem two weeks ago in an op-ed across from this space. Part of his plea was for the folks to show up at both county council and town council meetings and express to the elected officials the urgent need for immediate and decisive action to reverse this outrage. The time to address the restoration of our river is now.

Friends, when I asked you to fill the high school auditorium on the Pinckney Point problem, you responded and we moved the system. Today, you need to be on the bus to Beaufort and tomorrow you need to fill the Bluffton council meeting. The system needs to be moved again.

I commend Chairman Newton for his crucial and timely leadership on this matter. I also want to recognize Old Town Blufftonians, Babbie Guscio, Jimmy McIntire, and Jacob Preston for their efforts in organizing the willingness of the community to fight for what is ours.

I have also been fighting the budget fight on the battlefield known as Ways and Means Committee. Just as we were coming to grips with the harsh realities of revenue projections, we got an update from our Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) projecting larger shortfalls and for a longer duration that previously expected. Our already grim prospects just got much worse.

I’m going to outline two bad budget alternatives, followed by one that is somewhat less bad, in my view.

The first alternative is to dramatically cut the "aid to subdivision," which is the revenue collected by the state and shared with the counties and the municipalities. This would hit Beaufort County to the tune of $5-7 million. Chairman Newton and I discussed this option at length. We agreed that this would be the state politicians kicking the catastrophe down to the counties, who have even less flexibility than the state. Not a productive alternative.

Secondly, we could cut the state functions across the board. Unfortunately, the percentage of the cut would need to be in excess of 50%. Those are not cuts-- they are amputations.

The third option I also hate, but somewhat less than the first two. The plan is to raise the cigarette tax by fifty cents a pack, moving the revenue, along with the stimulus contribution, to backfill the budget for a maximum of two years. We would then phase the tobacco revenue into a more appropriate area, which is healthcare, Medicaid, smoking cessation, and insurance support. This would essentially allow the state to remain in its core functions until we recover our financial footing. Ideally, we would also recover our misplaced conservative budgetary prudence.

While much of this last option violates my deepest principles, I’m just not prepared to close half the prisons, inspect only half the nursing homes, fix only half of the few roads we currently fix, or slash our already meager support for education. This downturn has forced me, and many of my more thoughtful, serious colleagues into becoming what might be called "pragmatic conservatives."