State government as football game

  • Friday, October 4, 2013

Merril

As I write wondering whether the Gamecocks defense is actually going to show up this weekend, it occurs to me that I can use sports metaphors to spruce up this column. So here goes:

Blind Sided - The lack of security precautions and absolute incompetence exhibited by the Department of Revenue when personal data was stolen last year was completely unacceptable. Throughout the ensuing months there was much scrutiny of the department and the process by which citizens' information was obtained and protected. The good news is that there is new leadership at revenue and a commitment to restoring trust. On the other hand, we must remain vigilant and not allow this episode to slip from public consciousness.

A reminder of this fact was the recent announcement that a new firm will be taking over the identity theft protection services that are being paid for by the state. Within last year's budget the General Assembly appropriated millions of dollars to continue the monitoring process that was initially handled by Experian. The only catch is that the Experian contract was awarded without legislative review, while the new contract was put in place after going through the state procurement and review practice. This procedure has saved the state millions of dollars - and will also provide more coverage.

However, the down side is that in late October residents will need to register with a new company, CSIdentity Corporation, in order to receive the free service. There has been some misunderstanding because Experian sent out renewal notices in an attempt to retain the business it had gained through the initial contract.

In short, if you are happy with the current service and do not mind paying for it personally you can renew with Experian. If you desire to receive the free service that is being offered by the state you will need to register with the new company which is CSIdentity Corp. Information on how to sign up will be distributed via the media beginning in mid-October.

Punting on First Down - I have long been critical of our state's Commission on Higher Education. This is because it is a feckless, do-nothing agency that views itself as an advocacy group rather than a regulatory group. It is my opinion, much like first mentioned by former governor Sanford, that our state needs a comprehensive state plan for higher education and an umbrella agency like a board of regents to oversee and administer that plan.

When discussing colleges and universities we mostly hear about funding; their desire for autonomy; the cost of tuition; and the fact that many good South Carolina students are not accepted at the public college of their choice.

The salient fact is that dealing with our state's future - relative to higher education - can no longer be ignored. Funding for colleges is approximately one third of our state budget, but there is no rational method being used for appropriating funds. That is the fault of the General Assembly.

However, unmitigated growth, irrational admittance requirements, silly tenure procedures and program duplication lie at the feet of the institutions and CHE. Yet when questions are raised regarding higher education - or are critical of the current process - an onslaught of alumni and lobbyist descend with charges of being “disloyal” to one's school or “anti-education.”

Some people, like Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails and Mount Pleasant Town Council, have simply had enough and have taken the situation into their own hands. And who can blame them?

When a significant number of good South Carolina students cannot gain admittance to a college because of artificial rankings, a desire for out of state dollars or because of the cost of tuition, it is time to act. But more than anything else, I think the mayor's aggressive approach has illustrated the definitive need for comprehensive change within the system statewide. And if we don't see something soon? Well, I predict skyrocketing enrollment at the new Francis Marion-Mount Pleasant College, followed shortly thereafter by every other frustrated municipality in South Carolina.

No Win Situation - In a few weeks the first workshops regarding next year's state budget will begin. At first glance the situation will be much like last year's - with some new state revenues, but most of it already dedicated to items like health care or the Department of Revenue crisis. Clearly, one of our more pressing needs is for infrastructure improvement and an honest commitment to mass transit. The problem when fighting for dollars in the Lowcountry is that the average cost per road mile is significantly higher than other places in the state. However, the desire for a growing port is commiserate with the needs of business in the upstate. I believe that may be the negotiating point on which a funding compromise can be found.

Kick Off - It is amazing that the senate and governor's races (for 2014 no less) are already becoming heated. And locally there are municipal elections that will take place in November. But I think I speak for most people when I say, “Thank God for sports.”


Rep. Jim Merrill is the former majority leader of the South Carolina House of Representatives and represents District 99 which is comprised of parts of Hanahan, Daniel Island, Cainhoy, Goose Creek and Mount Pleasant.

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