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Boundary Funding: Good Idea, Bad Timing

While South Carolina suffers from its worst economic downturn arguably since the Great Depression, state legislators have decided a problem more than 200 years in the making needs some scarce state resources.

Among items included in the House budget bill are provisos that would require:

• Funds appropriated or authorized to the Budget and Control Board as a special item for mapping to be used for county boundary determination and resolution of the boundary between South Carolina and North Carolina. (Proviso 81A.14);
• The Budget and Control Board to submit a report to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee regarding the progress of the S.C. and N.C. boundary dispute within 60 days of the close of each fiscal year until such dispute is resolved (81A.25); and
• The creation of a seven-member South Carolina Boundary Commission. The purpose of the commission is to work with the North Carolina Boundary Commission to resolve undocumented boundaries between South Carolina and North Carolina (80A.27).

For years, surveyors armed with GPS and satellite feeds have worked to re-establish the 401-mile border between North Carolina and South Carolina for the first time since it was redrawn in the early 1800s with sextants and crude compasses.

Zigzagging lines with sharp right angles and winding curves mark the border, especially the area south of Charlotte. According to a 2008 report  in the Charlotte Observer, the Etch-a-sketch pattern is deliberate and a result of an 85-year journey involving Indian treaties, English lords' folly and surveyors on horseback following the stars, historians say.

"The first problem was that the Province of Carolina was ordered divided by English lords who had never stepped foot in the New World," Louise Pettus, a retired Winthrop University history professor, told the paper. "It took five surveying teams more than 85 years to complete the border, and it was hard work with little pay. One team would make a mistake and, instead of correcting it, would keep going. ... And that border with all of its starts and stops is what we are living with today.”

Other problems have come with development. For example, around 1815 a stone marker was erected on the west bank of the confluence of the South Fork and Catawba rivers. It marked a critical juncture in the much-contested line that separates the Carolinas.

But when the Catawba River was dammed in 1925 to create Lake Wylie, the 3-foot-high stone obelisk disappeared beneath the water. The marker hasn’t been seen since.

The monument is crucial because its precise location could alter a 65-mile straight stretch of the state line that runs west from Lake Wylie through six counties to just south of Tryon, N.C.

The Legislature established the South Carolina Boundary Commission several years ago. Its purpose was to work with the North Carolina Boundary Commission to resolve undocumented boundaries between South Carolina and North Carolina.

Last year, the total budget for the S.C. Boundary Commission was $222,116, according to the Budget and Control Board.

Among the goals of cooperatively redrawing the S.C.-N.C. boundary is to avoid litigation, such as what occurred between South Carolina and Georgia. That border dispute cost the state $20 million and 20 years of litigation, including a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, before it was resolved.

And while the goal of lawmakers in determining the states’ borders is laudable, now may not be the time to allocate taxpayer dollars to the effort.

Funding for core services such as law enforcement, prisons and education continues to dwindle. In the past two years alone, state funding for K-12 public schools has been cut by $484 million, for example.

In December, the Budget and Control Board voted to cut $238.2 million from the state’s General Fund budget, which has fallen from $6.7 billion to $5.1 billion in less than two years. The 5 percent cut was the third budget reduction in six months as South Carolina continues to suffer from dramatically falling tax collections.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.

Budget and Control Board General Assembly K-12 Taxes Transparency