Bill Byrd posed an interesting question in his column on May 10: Why doesn’t South Carolina sell Santee Cooper — the third-largest government-owned utility in the country — and use the proceeds for something important (“Sell Santee Cooper, and buy road repairs”)?
My answer is simple: Santee Cooper’s worth is incalculable.
As Byrd’s column indicates, the value of Santee Cooper has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years. With the growing need for electric power in residential, commercial and industrial buildings alike, the potential sale of Santee Cooper is certainly intriguing for investor-owned utilities. It seems like a pro-market move with practically zero drawbacks.
However, South Carolina cannot use this day-trader mentality. Santee Cooper is not merely an asset that should be sold to turn a quick profit. Although the revenue generated by the sale could fund major improvements for the state, it’s not that simple.
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As a state-owned utility, Santee Cooper can be used as a leverage point in attracting new businesses. It has the ability to help create what our state needs most: jobs.
Consider this hypothetical: John and a group of friends are playing basketball at a local court. A big group of kids arrives at the court and offers to purchase John’s basketball for $100. John only paid $15 for the basketball, so it sounds like a great deal. John could put the money toward purchasing a car, or he could invest it in a college fund.
However, John knows that even if he uses the money to purchase another basketball, he has forfeited his spot on the court. The new group of kids will hijack the court, and John will no longer have a place to play basketball with his friends.
John declines the offer because he understands that by selling his basketball, he’s selling the local court.
Santee Cooper is the court. If sold, it would be a quick, easy money-maker for the state. It would give taxpayers and legislators a big number to point at and boast about. But dollars have bounds; economic development does not.
The conservative decision is to think long-term. Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago.
Now, back to the basketball court: Would you rather make one pass and score a slam dunk, or make five passes and score a three-pointer?