Sunday, October 17, 2010

We must reform local government entities

We in South Carolina love local control. The argument is made that government that governs at the most local level governs best. It is an extension of the very correct theory of states’ rights. But, the growth of government at the local level in South Carolina suggests that perhaps that theory does not extend to local governments within a state.

Frankly put, the growth of government spending by school district boards, county councils and municipal governments over the past decade has skyrocketed. Local government officials fly underneath the political radar and spend millions of dollars.

If you doubt that, think on this. In the late 1990s, the South Carolina General Assembly passed property tax relief. In essence, the state government agreed to subsidize the county governments and others to lower real estate property taxes. Such seemed great at the time. But, as time as passed, local governments only found ways to take the subsidy from the state and spend more. Property taxes have increased in real dollars over the years. All the “tax relief” of the General Assembly done was increase the size and scope of local governments.

But, perhaps even more sinister is the way that local governments seem out of control. Town governments vote themselves term extensions. Folks in towns like Ware Shoals wake up with huge water bill rates, only to find that their Mayor resigned and moved away. School district boards of trustees practice “good ole boy politics” and keep their buddies in leadership and administrative positions when they are ineffective. Credit cards are misused. Some officials even use their position to benefit their businesses. Others enjoy “off the record” special breaks at businesses that their local governments regulate.

The list of problems goes on and on. It could fill a book. From the coast to the mountains, South Carolina is filled with local government entities that are oversized, spend too much, and overreach in their power. Though the strong sense of local rule in South Carolina stands in the way, something must be done to get big local government under control.

VUI offers a few ideas for consideration. First, South Carolina should have uniform municipal election dates. Perhaps they should be set in General Election years or in the odd years, but whatever such choice, it should be uniform. The people should have a general knowledge of such elections, and no local government should have the right to vote an extension of their terms of office.

Further, the Comptroller General of South Carolina shall be given the power to audit, at his discretion, the financial records of any local government entity.

In addition, South Carolina must look at consolidating school districts. The administrative overhead of school districts in South Carolina is a moral outrage. There are school districts in South Carolina in which poor students are taught by teachers who have to pay for supplies out of their own pockets, while administrators in the same districts are paid six figures.

Finally, we the people, have to pay more attention to local government. We live in a society in which people are much more likely to know their Congressman than their school board member or Mayor. That is our responsibility. As long as we do not pay attention, real reform is unlikely. For state politicians want their potential opponents fat and happy politically in local office. Frankly, that is human nature.

That said, if we are ever to get this state on track and take it to is potential, we must have state leaders with the courage to reform how we do local government. That is what is truly out of control in this state.

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