Editorial: Legislative racetrack is too fast, even for a keeper like Boeing

April 16, 2013 

Boeing SC Plane

The first made-in-South Carolina Boeing 787 rolled off the assembly line a year ago next week.

BRUCE SMITH — AP

— IN A WORLD where fewer and fewer people keep their promises, it’s worth celebrating when people not only keep their promises but exceed our expectations. Particularly when that means thousands of new, good-paying jobs from an A-list corporation that is changing the way we and others think about our state.

It’s hard not to get excited about Boeing’s announcement last week that it would hire another 2,000 employees at its North Charleston plant. That’s over and above the 6,000 people already here, which is over and above the 3,800 the company promised to hire in 2009, in return for infrastructure, workforce training, land and tax breaks worth an estimated $900 million.

Although analysts predicted that Boeing would expand on its initial investment if things went well, our political leaders and our people had to not blow it. And they didn’t. Gov. Nikki Haley, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman and House Speaker Bobby Harrell deserve credit for working with the company to ensure that the anticipated expansion materialized.

As much as we dislike paying companies to invest in our state, the unfortunate fact is that states have created a bidding war, so it’s now impossible to land major deals without incentives. And while we believe South Carolina should be much less generous with incentives for smaller investments, it’s hard to argue that we aren’t getting our money’s worth for the cachet, and the jobs, that Boeing brings.

What we would argue is that there’s no justification for the race track the Legislature opened up to speed through $150 million in incentives for Boeing’s expansion. The public, and most legislators, hadn’t heard of the deal until Tuesday, when Mr. Leatherman introduced the incentives bill. So far, it has bypassed the normal Senate subcommittee review and been approved in committee just hours after it was filed, has skipped over the normal two-day wait before debate in the full Senate and bypassed the House subcommittee and committee reviews. We fully expect it to also bypass the normal wait before the House votes on it, perhaps today.

This is unprecedented with one exception: Boeing’s 2009 package.

Then, the state was in a bidding war, and officials could argue that the Legislature had to act with vertigo-inducing speed or risk losing the deal. No such claim can be made this time. Mr. Leatherman has said merely that lawmakers needed to act quickly to show good faith. Frankly, we feel certain that Boeing officials realize South Carolina is a good partner.

There is nothing onerous about taking two weeks to move a bill from twinkle in a legislator’s eye to the governor’s desk. Short-cutting that process cuts the public out and makes it nearly impossible for legislators to adequately review the legislation. Even straight-forward legislation such as this.

How much thought, for instance, went into the declaration that for major projects, the benefits to the state of “the construction of infrastructure … for use by private parties … outweigh the costs of such infrastructure.” Not “may outweigh the cost.” Outweigh the cost. In this case that’s probably true. But by week’s end, that unqualified declaration will be state law, applying not just to Boeing but to any large project.

The one thing that’s gratifying about the legislative fast track is that it shows what our lawmakers can accomplish when they set their minds to it. It would be nice to see them set their minds to accomplishing something in the way of reforming our ethics law and giving our governor some reasonable control over government and putting procedures in place to prevent more state agencies from losing our personal data to computer hackers — and all those other things they promised were priorities this year, but somehow haven’t managed to pass.

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