Monday, June 1, 2009

Federal Stimulus is a bad idea we must accept

Bluffton Today

I want to thank those who called about last week’s column, and there were around 350 of you. That piece has been run each Memorial Day for the last five years because it receives the same commentary from you each year. We must properly commemorate the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform to protect our country and preserve those things that make our way of life the envy of much of the world. In truth, I think we need more opportunities to express our gratitude.

I am also grateful that the session is over for a while. Although we have managed to accomplish a few items of the people’s business, on the whole, this session involved much effort that was not reflected in satisfactory outcome. In the next few weeks, I will give you, as is customary, a recitation of the good, the bad, and what might have been.

One thing I can say going in is that the new Senator from Beaufort, Tom Davis, has been a tremendous addition to the Beaufort County delegation. Every good bill that has either originated with our delegation or that we have embraced has been given a proper and appropriate hearing in the Senate due to the efforts of Senator Davis. Not only is Tom a good friend of mine, he is an effective advocate for the best interests of those we have the honor of representing.

One of the items we you have been asking me about is what is going on with the governor and the stimulus money, and why does it appear that the state is suing itself over a rather arcane distinction in constitutional law? The answer is somewhat complicated, not very pretty, and appears to most folks to be more about egos and prerogatives than the best way to get us through this economic rough patch.

I want to be clear up front: I was not a supporter of the stimulus package or the underlying economic philosophy from which it flowed. However, when it became the law of the land, my reservations had to be put aside. My brand of conservatism has a long history that runs from Edmund Burke, through Barry Goldwater, and reached full flower under Ronald Reagan. Embedded in the idea of smaller and less intrusive government is a wide streak of practical wisdom that deems ideological purity to be less important than providing for the general welfare and the economic survival of the governed.

For reasons that are only now starting to become clear, much of the global economy began to collapse toward the end of last year. Our state has suffered significant dislocation because of these events, and our state revenues have reflected the generalized decline. The governor, for his own reasons, preferred to refuse federal stimulus dollars and has used various stratagems to effect his will.

While his reasons may make ideological sense, your representative cannot, in good conscience, lay off teachers, prison guards, state troopers and dismantle the regulatory regime of the state in the name of ideological purity. In addition, even if we don’t take the federal stimulus funds, we are still on the hook to pay it back, leaving us relatively poorer than our neighbors and just as deeply in debt.

Our current budget is only 1.5% higher than it was nine years ago. Most state agencies have absorbed 20% cuts and are on notice that if the economy doesn’t improve in two years at the end of the stimulus, they need contingencies for at least another 20% cut.

My sense is that the courts will support our pragmatic conservative approach. If not, our economic hole will find a new bottom.