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State Officials See Economic Development Trees in Forest

A growing number of state officials think they can see the forest for the economic development trees, or so it seems.

Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon, introduced a bill Tuesday to channel yet more state tax dollars to the S.C. Forestry Commission for “forest industry economic enhancement.”

The bill would steer 7 percent of state insurance premium tax revenue to the Forestry Commission for that purpose as well as firefighting.

The measure, S. 1348, was assigned to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

The bill mirrors one in the House, 4082, that Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, is sponsoring. Vick’s bill, pending before the Ways and Means Committee, has attracted a smattering of 17 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Indeed, Land is just the latest Palmetto State pol to get in on the act of trying to pump up the state’s economic development role in the agribusiness realm. And that it’s a bipartisan group is further witnessed in Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, a Republican.

“We think the Department of Agriculture has played a critical role in impacting supply and demand for South Carolina products,” Weathers told a Ways and Means panel in January.

Of course, the elected ones aren’t out there pushing this cart all by their lonesome.

The Forestry Commission asked for an enormous $21.1 million, or 84 percent, funding increase for the 2012-13 fiscal year that starts July 1. The commission proposes to spend a good chunk of its requested budget hike on – yes – forest industry economic development.

Seriously, though, for the forestry industry?

By the commission’s own numbers forestry already contributes some $17.4 billion per year to South Carolina’s economy and supports about 90,000 jobs in the state.

Do we really need to spend more state taxpayer dollars helping out this mega-industry?

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.

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