Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Haley shines in bright yellow at photo op; children still suffer

When too few people were aware that Governor Nikki Haley had signed a law eliminating sales taxes on second homes, Haley leaped into action: She dressed in bright yellow and traveled to Daniel Island for a ceremonial re-signing of the bill in front of cameras. Thanks to her quick thinking and bold leadership, more people now know that she signed this bill into law. The Charleston Post and Courier has reported it:

CHARLESTON — Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that a change in the state’s tax law will help boost business activity and second-home ownership across South Carolina. “What it does is get the real estate market across the state churning again,” Haley said during a ceremonial signing of the state’s new point-of-sale law.

Under the law, businesses and owners of property taxed at 6 percent, including second homes, no longer pay taxes on the sales price of the property. Instead they pay at a reduced rate but no less than the current tax value.

“We had a problem with second home ownership that was starting to fall terribly in South Carolina,” the governor said, adding it won’t be the first tax issue her administration will take up.

Yes, we had a problem with second home ownership -- it was starting to fall terribly -- but Haley took a strong stance on the issue, worked relentlessly to organize a re-signing ceremony, traveled a great distance to be where photographers were going to be, gathered a lot of men in business suits around her, and smiled for the cameras. Holding a pen in her hand.

Problem faced, problem solved. Our wealthier citizens are now free, once again, to go about their business, buying second -- and third! -- homes without the specter of evil sales taxes clouding their horizons and dampening their spirits. This is why we elect strong leaders, to take charge of issues, to solve problems, and to stage photo opportunities that build photo files for future political advertisements.

Now that Haley has met and conquered that serious issue, now she can turn her attention to this one:

The annual Kids Count has never a source of celebration for South Carolina. Things will not change in 2011.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2011 Kids Count Data Book takes a special look at the impact of the Great Recession on the nation's children. South Carolina continues to rank 45th in the nation for child well-being based on 10 key indicators. Most startling is that approximately 260,000 children, one of every four, are poor; half (approximately 520,000) of all South Carolina's children live in low-income families below twice the poverty line.

The governor of South Carolina will act boldly and swiftly to address this serious issue, won't she?

As a result of the Great Recession, the annual Kids Count data also examined two additional indicators: unemployment and foreclosure. For South Carolina, "the results are startling," according to Baron Holmes, project director for Kids Count South Carolina. Some key highlights include the following:

* 140,000 children in South Carolina are in families with one or both parents unemployed.

* 11 percent of children (113,000) in South Carolina had at least one unemployed parent during 2010.

* South Carolina had the second highest percentage in the nation (6.6 percent) of children with all resident parents unemployed and the third highest percentage in the nation (13.6 percent) with at least one resident parent unemployed in 2009.

* Three percent (53,000) of children were affected by foreclosure during 2007 through 2009, ranking South Carolina in a tie for 14th nationally.

Where would be the best place for a photo opportunity to see the governor taking a strong stance and working relentlessly to stage a signing ceremony? Should she do it at a school? Probably not; too many teachers around whose frowns would mar the shot, and getting a good candid photo with children takes a long time and a lot of set-ups -- there are so many things that can go wrong.

South Carolina's worst rankings are for low birth weight (47th), infant and child deaths (47th), single-parent families (47th), and child poverty (41st). Since the release of the Kids Count data books beginning 20 years ago, South Carolina has consistently ranked 45th. "Increased child poverty resulting from the Great Recession highlights long-existing curses of low education, low employment and persistent poverty. Until education and employment are improved dramatically in South Carolina, the wellbeing of children in South Carolina will remain in the bottom six or eight states, as it has been over the past two decades," Holmes said.

A coalition of organizations supporting children and families across South Carolina is reviewing the economic data and mitigation efforts in order to identify opportunities for improvement. Sue Williams, chief executive officer of the Children's Trust of South Carolina, said, "South Carolina cannot afford continue to languish in the bottom 10 percent. As revealed in the Kids Count report, we must have a greater focus on a comprehensive, coordinated plan for the betterment of our children. Our state and our children deserve better."

If not a photo op at a school, what about in a plant? Preferably a plant that has just announced an expansion. What about BMW -- didn't it announce an expansion recently? Great plants have a lot of great lighting, and wearing those safety glasses among a bunch of businessmen in suits and engineers in white coats looks amazingly gubernatorial, like a lot of hard work is paying off.

With budget issues already impacting education, health care and services in negative ways, South Carolina's leaders have challenges. And things may get worse before they get better. But we've got to make them better.

As Harry Davis, director of the Children's Law Center, University of South Carolina School of Law, stated, "During the recession of the past two years, over 38,000 children have joined the 220,000 children who were already among the poorest of the poor in South Carolina. Our state cannot recover and move forward while one-quarter of its children live in such severe distress. Kids Count calls our attention to the fact that adequate nutrition, health care, and education are the building blocks that children need to grow into productive citizens."

Wait a minute: We're not doing anything to address chronic unemployment, poverty, low birth weight and infant mortality. There's no comprehensive, coordinated plan for the betterment of poor children. Poor people, and especially poor children, are depressing as hell; no one gets into the national political spotlight if she's mired down in dialogue about unemployment and poor children.

Where did this come from? There's no photo opportunity here. Why are we talking about this?

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