Monday, November 22, 2010

Area may get a fair share of road money

Bluffton Today

I spent a good deal of time in Columbia last week getting things situated for our “mini-session.” There were a few agenda items but mostly it was committee assignments and some housekeeping matters.

Your representative was returned to Ways and Means, which was no surprise. We were pleased that our new colleague, Andy Patrick, from Hilton Head Island, was able to skip ahead a few paces and be placed on the Education Committee, which is a boost to this area.

Andy was able to secure this key assignment because he is an impressive fellow and has been introduced to a number of members who look forward to working with him. Just as former Rep. Joanne Gilham was able to smooth my way into leadership, your representative and other delegation members have been diligent in seeing that Andy will hit the ground running.

Andy and I have shared a pretty fair amount of travel time recently, with a lot of opportunity to exchange ideas on any number of legislative matters. On education, we are in perfect agreement that public education is not only a crucial family matter, but also an extremely important feature of economic development. Just as we invest in ports and roads, we need to invest in improving our state’s educational outcomes at all levels. Since Andy has a house full of young children, I’m pretty sure he will view his committee responsibilities with a fatherly seriousness.

We heard a budget forecast from Dr. Gillespie of the Budget and Control Board, which was predictably grim. The recession still has large portions of the state in a firm grip and we should tailor our expectations accordingly. The one relatively bright spot in his presentation had to do with tourism, particularly along the coast. In fact, we are pretty much holding the rest of the state above water, so to speak. This has potentially profound implications for how we allocate our increasingly scarce resources.

Let me explain: Historically, our state has invested transportation dollars according to population, as opposed to usage. Consequently, the more populous parts of the state have newer and less crowded roads than we have in the more visitor-intensive areas.

That’s just the way it was. As tourism is increasing seen as our primary engine of solvency, it makes sense to invest in what is working. This is something the Coastal Caucus and your delegation have been working on for years with little to show. This may be about to change.

Finally we had an excellent report from the director of our Education Lottery, my friend Paula Harper Bethea. Not only is our lottery doing very well compared to other state lotteries, we are spending much less than our competitors on advertising and administration. While the parallels with other agencies are not perfect, there is merit in seeing how administration costs can be reduced while productivity is maximized.

If there are things that Paula is doing with the lottery that could provide models for other agencies, we certainly need to take a close look. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes it takes a series of austere budgets for us to see clearly what the true cost of government is. Don’t forget, we have a Beaufort County Legislative Delegation meeting Nov. 30 at the Chamber of Commerce complex on Hilton Head Island.