Scoppe: Another year with South Carolina’s slacker Legislature

Associate EditorJanuary 11, 2014 

IMAGINE YOUR car is falling apart, but rather than replace it, you keep paying for expensive repairs.

Your house needs re-shingling, so you take out a home-equity loan, but instead of getting a new roof, you add on an extra room.

Your boss promises to double your pay if you’ll get an online degree — he’ll even pay for that — but you keep putting him off, because it might interfere with going out drinking with the boys three nights a week.

You get short of breath walking to the mailbox, you’re overweight, and you smoke, and your doctor says you’ll drop dead of a heart attack any minute if you don’t at least start taking an aspirin a day. A rational person would say that’s an awfully small price to pay for … life. But you’re a South Carolinian, and by golly, people don’t tell you what to do.

Then your child falls out of a third-story window, and you and your spouse get into a shouting match over which hospital to take her to and storm off and lock yourselves in separate rooms to stew, while she keeps moaning in the back yard.

That’s not the plot line for a new slacker sitcom. It’s our slacker Legislature.

Our Legislature has known for years that it needed to give the governor the power to act like a governor and give itself the mandate to act like a Legislature and give county governments the authority to oversee matters in their own communities. But it has refused to do so, too often actually moving in the other direction. Essentially, binging even more every day rather than taking an aspirin every night.

Our Legislature has known for years that it needed to overhaul an antiquated tax system, one more suitable for the early 20th century than the 21st, one that is more loophole than cohesive whole, one that is driven by special interests and squeaky wheels. But rather than doing the difficult work for the long-term payoff — a tax system that covers a broader swath of our economy at lower tax rates and provides enough money to pay for the state’s actual needs instead of the one that taxes a smaller and smaller portion of our economy every year — it keeps gorging on politically popular tax cuts. Essentially, going out drinking with the boys instead of getting that degree.

Our Legislature has known for years that it needs to provide every child in this state with the opportunity to get a good education — a task that will require changing the way we run our schools and the way we fund our schools, possibly more money. But rather than making the political and financial investments that will pay off exponentially, lawmakers keep engaging in pointless culture-war debates and flirting with education anarchists. Essentially, refusing to buy a new car that would more than pay for itself in reduced repair bills.

Then in the run-up to the 2013 legislative session, our state ran head-on into a confluence of crises that demanded immediate action: 250 legislative and local candidates were kicked off the ballot because no one noticed that a new law changed the filing requirements for non-incumbents; the ethics law was exposed as a self-protection racket for the political class; computer hackers broke into the ill-secured data system of the state Revenue Department and lifted the unencrypted Social Security numbers and other sensitive data of 6.5 million current and former S.C. residents and businesses; the unaccountable board that runs Richland County elections failed to deploy enough voting machines, producing waits as long as seven hours that deprived untold thousands of the right to vote and exposing the byzantine ways of our Legislative State to voters statewide.

I figured lawmakers would deal with the crises — get the child to a hospital, any hospital — and then get back to not trading in the clunker and not reroofing the house and not working on that degree.

I was wrong.

Oh, they continued to not deal with our long-term, long-ignored problems. But addressing the crises — not so much.

They did deal with the ballot purge, although that simple fix took them the whole session. They did next to nothing on hacking, merely paying for another year of credit monitoring, and nothing on the deep flaws in our election laws — and all too many other laws that empower county legislative delegations — that were revealed by the Richland election debacle.

Instead, they worked hard to demonstrate their love for guns and nullification and their animosity toward Obamacare. They worked even harder to make sure they didn’t reform our ethics law. In fact, they tried to sneak through provisions that would weaken the anemic law.

The disdain for ethics reform knows no party, and it’s hard not to believe that lawmakers’ refusal to protect our state from further cyber attacks has something to do with their determination not to give the governor any power — while of course declaring their undying support for giving the governor more power.

And so we begin another legislative session stuck in a dead-end job, on the verge of a heart attack, with the roof about to fall in.

Maybe we at least can agree to take the kid to the hospital — and hope the car doesn’t break down on the way.

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