Opinion Extra

Sheheen: Get S.C. moving again

A decade without leadership has put South Carolina's prosperity in peril.

For almost 10 years, our state has suffered through ineffective state leadership, aggravated by an unwieldy, antiquated government structure. The result has been a lost decade for our beloved state.

Our jobless rate has soared. For years during the 1990s, South Carolina enjoyed low unemployment rates; now, we have one of the highest in the nation.

Our public college tuition costs have skyrocketed. Over the past decade, we've seen college tuition more than double statewide and nearly triple at some colleges and universities.

Our government has become unresponsive. More than 40 states have raised their cigarette taxes to help fund health care and curtail youth smoking; our cigarette tax continues to be the lowest in the nation, unchanged even though three in four South Carolinians favor an increase.

Our momentum for change has been squandered. In the 1990s our state was on the cutting edge of government reform; but for the past 10 years, we have seen little progress in modernizing our government structure.

Worst of all, our expectations have flat-lined. Dangerously low expectations of our government are perhaps the worst symptom of this lost decade. Some South Carolinians think this is the way it always has been and always will be.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

With leadership, vision and hard work, we can get our state moving again. It's time to have a governor who believes and expects that state government should work and be a part of the solution for the problems of our state. We need a governor committed to restoring our economy, reforming our government and renewing our investment in our future.

To restore our economy, we need a governor who will personally and tirelessly work to recruit business and investment into South Carolina. We deserve a governor who will name economic development professionals instead of political buddies to run the Department of Commerce. We need leadership willing to establish an office of entrepreneurship and small business to help the small businesses that create the majority of jobs in this state.

Our state needs a cohesive vision that includes a vigorous technical college system, acting as a key link between our workforce and our manufacturing and distribution facilities. We must invest in higher education and reduce college tuition rates instead of pricing many of our young people out of a college education. And we must reduce the hemorrhaging of our young professionals and employees who leave this state to seek work.

To reform state government, we need a leader who is ready to tackle tough issues and bring accountability and progress to a system that is dysfunctional. We must modernize both the executive and the legislative branches so that they perform the functions we should expect of a state government in the 21st century.

Government on auto-pilot is no longer acceptable. The next governor must have the authority and responsibility to run the day-to-day business of state government. And our Legislature must fulfill the much-needed role of oversight: to regularly and objectively evaluate the operations of state agencies and programs so that we know whether our tax dollars are being spent on the highest and best uses.

Comprehensive government reform also must look at the way we fund government. Our patchwork tax system is a disincentive for business growth, is unreliable and is unfair for our state. We have known for years that we need comprehensive tax reform, but the need has never been so urgent. Our failure to reform our tax system has profound implications, not only on our state's business climate, but also on our ability to meet our basic obligations such as public education, law enforcement and road repair.

To renew our investment in our future, we need a governor who will go on the offensive in improving public education, instead of forcing the rest of us to defend it from those who want to fund private schools with public school tax dollars. Smaller class sizes, retaining high-quality teachers and equitable funding for all S.C. schools should be priorities for the next administration.

South Carolina is blessed with tremendous potential. We are poised to take advantage of opportunities for such new industries as alternative fuel production, cutting-edge medical services and local farming initiatives. God has blessed us with wonderful natural resources, and our forebears left us a culture rich in diversity and character.

Thomas Edison once said that if we did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves. We have the potential. Will we live up to the gifts we have been blessed with?