Politics & Government

December 11, 2010

Mark Sanford: Report Card

When Gov. Mark Sanford was elected eight years ago his broad vision for changing South Carolina touched on a need to change the way the state created jobs, taxed its citizens, governed itself, and reform spending and education.

When Gov. Mark Sanford was elected eight years ago his broad vision for changing South Carolina touched on a need to change the way the state created jobs, taxed its citizens, governed itself, and reform spending and education. In State of the State speeches, inaugural addresses and barnstorming tours of the state, Sanford took his agenda to the people.

A look at five Sanford objectives, his prescription for change and how those efforts fared.

Restructuring state government

The problem: Sanford, picking up the mantle of former Gov. Carroll Campbell, argued, that unlike legislators, all South Carolinians elect the governor and more accountability for how government works should be in the governor’s office.

The solution: Sanford, over the course of eight years, argued the General Assembly should give the governor the power to appoint other constitutional offices – the secretary of state, state treasurer, comptroller general, adjutant general, superintendent of education and agriculture commissioner. Those positions now are elected.

What Sanford accomplished: Sanford never got lawmakers to put any of the state’s constitutional offices into the governor’s cabinet. But Sanford can count as wins new appointive powers in an overhaul of the state Department of Transportation and a restructuring of the Department of Employment and Workforce.

Grade: C-

School choice

The problem: South Carolina’s history of uneven public school performance, with pockets of chronically failing schools struggling with student achievement.

The solution: Sanford, in an effort to expand school choice, advocated giving parents who choose private schools a tax credit to underwrite the expense.

What Sanford accomplished: Lawmakers continually have rejected any tax credit or voucher plan that would send taxpayer money to private schools. But the issue is far from settled; groups who favor tax credits or vouchers continue to make their case.

Grade: F

Tax reform

The problem: Sanford says South Carolina residents pay too much in taxes.

The solution: Sanford wanted to eliminate the state’s income tax, a move he said would make the state more competitive in attracting investment, help small businesses grow and narrow the wealth gap between South Carolinians and average Americans.

What Sanford accomplished: Sanford got a partial loaf. Lawmakers passed a pared down version of what Sanford wanted: an income tax bill that gave small business owners, who typically file individual income taxes, a tax cut to 5 percent from 7 percent.

Grade: C

Expand economic development

The problem: Sanford argued South Carolina could not build its economy by doling out large tax breaks to attract branch manufacturing. Sanford said he preferred incentives to small businesses to encourage them to expand and compete.

The solution: Sanford often argued for limits on incentive packages to big businesses. But the worst recession in U.S. history changed the nature of the argument about job creation.

What Sanford accomplished: He essentially dropped the argument. Sanford, who often spoke against incentives, signed a sweeping economic development bill this year that made it easier for local government to give out tax breaks to job creators. Sanford also joined lawmakers in extending a generous incentives package to Boeing. According to some estimates, those incentives could be worth $900 million to a company bringing 4,000 jobs to the state. In 2009, the governor’s office announced six investments that each could bring in 1,000 jobs or more. Incentives were key to each of those deals.

Grade: Incomplete

Board of Regents

The problem: Sanford entered office arguing South Carolina’s system of higher education was too big, wasteful and duplicative, and needed a single governing agency to coordinate a single vision for colleges.

The solution: A board of regents. Sanford proposed a statewide board that college presidents and boards of trustees as public colleges would answer to. That way, Sanford argued, duplication would be reduced, collaboration would increase and efficiency would be forced on schools.

What Sanford accomplished: His board of regents idea never got off the ground. But this year Sanford, a critic of spiraling tuition costs, got schools to reduce their tuition rates by tying new construction projects to caps on tuition hikes. Consequently, several schools lowered already announced tuition increases.

Grade: D

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