THE ELECTION IS OVER. THE PRESS CONFERENCES HAVE BEGUN.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE PROMISES?
The election is over. Election results are being certified. Winners are holding press conferences and reiterating their intentions. Planning for the 2015-16 legislative session has begun. An organizational session will likely take place in the House to swear in members and elect officers.
So, what’s next?
If you take their campaign rhetoric seriously, a large number of incumbents won reelection on their alleged “record” – their record of “fighting corruption,” voting against tax increases, enhancing transparency, boosting education funding, or voting for “landmark reform.” Similarly, a number of incumbents lost primaries and general elections to challengers who promised to pursue these goals with greater vigor than their opponents. So here we are – a little more than a week removed from the election, and about 9 weeks from the start of the legislative session. We have lots of promises to pursue reforms, and a long history of elected officials failing to achieve them.
“Ethics reform” was widely coopted by many candidates, and understandably so given the legal troubles in which the House Speaker found himself. Some campaigned on the promise to “clean up” the State House. Incumbents touted their work on a bill last session that would have fallen abysmally short of actual ethics reform, let alone out an end to corruption – though they didn’t phrase it that way to voters. What citizens need to remember when our elected officials begin work on ethics reform is that reform should favor citizens, not protect politicians. That lawmakers are governed under the Ethics Act – a set of rules that privileges lawmakers over citizens and other elected officials – makes it extremely difficult for citizens to hold them accountable. That’s what should change under any genuine ethics reform.
Road and infrastructure improvements were also a hot topic during the election, with many candidates promising to find more money to fix our roads. In her bid for reelection, however, Governor Haley would not say how she planned to tackle the roads issue other than that she would oppose doing it with an increase to the gas tax – and I commend her for that. However, she and other incumbents touted their “work” to fund roads – which amounted to moving more than $100 million from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB). That “work” testified to their commitment to “do something” about road maintenance, but not much more. In reality, the move diverted money from the entity tasked with maintaining our state’s infrastructure to an entity with a history of funding new construction over existing needs. Citizens should remember that our state’s budget comes to $25 billion. Surely there are numerous areas of waste and duplicity – such as the STIB itself – that can be eliminated and money directed to maintenance of existing roads. In any case, though, the first order of business has to be substantive reform in the way transportation policy decisions are made.
Citizens shouldn’t accept any more excuses for why systemic change cannot occur. South Carolina has an ethics problem – it’s called corruption, and we have seen that it may be worse than any of us knew. Our roads are crumbling and most lawmakers have refused to look beyond quick-fix monetary solutions.
All those promises about fighting corruption and fixing our roads – South Carolinians will be watching to see when, and whether, they’re fulfilled.
Jamie Murguia is Director of Research at the S.C. Policy Council, The Nerve‘s parent organization.