Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Island Packet: Education is a core function of government

Hilton Head is hardly a bastion of liberalism. So when the Hilton Head Island Packet questions Governor Nikki Haley's priorities and advocates for greater investment in public schools, something must be terribly wrong.

Gov. Nikki Haley says she wants state spending to focus on "core functions." Providing a good education for South Carolina's children fits that description and should not get short shrift. We could make no better investment in our economic future than to make sure we adequately fund K-12 education in South Carolina.

After three years of declining revenue projections, the state is finally seeing an upturn. State economic advisors have told lawmakers they can expect an additional $210 million in state revenue for the next budget year.

In the budget that has been sent to Haley, the House and Senate spent $56 million of that on education. That would bring state education spending to $1,880 per student, up from the current $1,615, but still below the $2,720 a state school funding formula calls for.

But Haley has vowed to veto that additional education spending, saying any new revenue should go toward paying down state debt or go back to taxpayers.

That sounds good, but means little without specifics.

We suspect a lot of taxpayers, including smart business leaders, would like to see an appropriately funded education system in South Carolina.

Another $146 million of the $210 million is to be used to reduce by 25 percent the unemployment tax assessments on the businesses that do the most firing and put the most strain on the state's unemployment trust fund.

Those businesses faced a steep hike in the amount they pay per employee after the unemployment trust fund went broke in 2009. That came after years of low unemployment taxes and agency mismanagement that left the state unable to handle the unemployment demands of the Great Recession.

It also left South Carolina with a $1 billion debt to the federal government. Using the new revenue to lower those unemployment taxes is expected to encourage the hiring of workers. Let's hope so because we still have to pay that debt, and we still have to make sure we don't find ourselves in a similar situation down the road.
But lawmakers and the governor will have a lot more credibility on the subject of efficient government when they tackle overall tax reform, including addressing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax exemptions approved over the years, repealing the 2006 Property Tax Reform Act and addressing inequitable education funding.

Education is a core function of state government -- the most important function. A strong education system is a sound investment for South Carolina.

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