Palmetto Snake Oil

September 12, 2013

Inside Insight

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

ariail snake oil

By Ashley Landess

We often say about the South Carolina Policy Council that without us, the only information availableabout S.C. government would come from government. S.C. politicians continue to prove that true every year when they release their list of “successes,” which are often exaggerated (to put it mildly). To hear politicians tell it, South Carolinians live in the lowest-tax state with one of the best climates for business, and we even have the least corrupt politicians – according to politicians!

When it comes to fact-checking, the folks in the State House could use a little help. For two straight years, legislative leaders told South Carolinians they paid “the lowest state taxes in the nation.” We pointed out that actually we have the lowest tax collections in the nation, not the lowest tax rates (big difference!). While we haven’t seen that claim this year, other equally questionable “facts” are pouring from the Columbia spin machine.

For example, this year legislative leaders claim to have funded millions in road improvements without raising taxes. What lawmakers actually did is transfer $50 million to the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank to borrow another $500 million, thus indebting S.C. taxpayers for years. Meanwhile, billions of dollars have been spent in a handful of counties that are home to legislative leaders who control the Infrastructure Bank but who are not accountable to taxpayers statewide.

Legislative leaders also brag that they’ve cut $28 billion in taxes over the past 18 years. They don’t mention the corresponding tax increases (such as the sales tax hike to “offset” some property tax relief) or increases in so-called “user fees” (which make up a larger portion of the state budget than general tax dollars) that often hit small businesses.

The only big “tax cuts” handed out lately have been limited to specific companies or industries. And because our state budget isn’t getting any smaller, those dollars are made up from federal dollars (which is largely debt) or other S.C. taxpayers.

It’s tempting to believe the claims that our business climate is among the best, and politicians have done a lot of work to make that seem true. The governor’s marketing campaign to present our state as “business friendly” has earned a lot of press, but the “announced” new jobs number doesn’t come with any follow-up reporting from state government as to whether the jobs materialized, or went to South Carolinians. We don’t know how many companies have closed their doors and thus how many jobs were lost.

As to the claim that our politicians are the least corrupt, it turns out that was based on a chart showing South Carolina had the lowest number of convictions for politicians! That makes perfect sense – few S.C. politicians are ever investigated, much less convicted! But if anything that “fact” might be a case for why our state is the most corrupt, not the least.

It’s tempting to let politicians’ claims go unchallenged – people don’t like bad news or the one who delivers it. But the good news is that it is absolutely possible to become the state with the most opportunity to prosper available to all citizens. South Carolina can be the state with the lowest taxes and least amount of corruption. But that cannot happen as long as we believe we already are, and is only possible when we insist that politicians deliver the results rather than simply the illusion.