Wednesday, February 25, 2015

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week was a marathon at the statehouse. As a member of leadership, I arrive early and stay late, but there were just not sufficient hours to get it all done. That said, we did hit it a pretty good lick.


The situation involving South Carolina State University (SCSU) continues to unfold. The more we learn about this institution, the more concerned I have become. I hope we are beyond the blame casting stage. In truth, there is more than enough blame to go around. There is currently a measure being considered that would remove the current board and the current president, and appoint the Budget and Control Board as an interim board, which would appoint interim executive leadership.


This legislator is certainly aware that SCSU is our last remaining historically black state university. Also the lamentable events of 1968, on and around the Orangeburg campus of SCSU, lend a vivid chapter to our ongoing efforts to provide quality educational opportunity to all our citizens. On this, we still have a ways to go. Even so, it is our task as a governing body, to hold to account any element of state government, which fails to perform its role in a fiscally prudent manner.


In my view, there needs to be a clear picture of where and how the SCSU finances began to falter, and a plan to fix it. If it was simply a failure to accurately project enrollment, so be it. Is there now a credible plan to boost enrollment? If there was, as has been suggested, legislative inattention, let’s define and address it. If the problem is that the necessity for historically black schools is no longer what it was, I believe that too, is worthy of reasonable discussion.


The SCSU situation is complex and will take some time to sort out. By contrast, the situation at Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT) is one of almost undiluted success, and success when we really needed some good economic news.

During the dark days of the Great Recession, I fought hard to provide PRT with adequate funding to continue their mission. The reason was that the return on investment for tourism and visitor marketing dollars is phenomenal. The visitor economy is one of our largest and most important industries. It also filters down into all areas of our economy, from hourly banquet workers to commissions of realtors as they seek to convert visitors to homeowners and local taxpayers.


Now, as the economy has gotten back on track, and we face huge deficiencies in our transportation infrastructure, there is some enthusiasm for paring back our investments in PRT. As Ways and Means PRT Subcommittee chairman, my thinking is entirely different. Most of us were visitors before we became residents. Most of us business owners had businesses somewhere else before we came to South Carolina. Events like the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, the steeplechases at Camden, even the upcoming half-marathon at Palmetto Bluff, offer a ton of opportunities to show off our state and our people. You’d be surprised at the number of businesses with 50 to 200 employees, whether manufacturing, or PR shops, or even engineering firms, that are looking for a reason to leave the bad weather and high taxes of some of our northern states, and find our business paradise of good weather, low taxes, and plentiful year-round amenities. Sometimes, a week’s vacation at Hilton Head/Bluffton or Charleston/Kiawah leads to more than great memories and sunset photos.


Next week: I have filed legislation to give the force of law to the recommendations of last year’s South Carolina Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Change. This is important.