By Andy Brack, editor and publisher | Two questions:
- What is the state that was offered $11 billion from the federal government to provide better health care for the poorest of its citizens and said no?
- What is the state that now wants the federal government to provide a $5 billion bailout for roads after not doing enough over the last 30 years to meet their infrastructure obligations?
Answer: South Carolina, also now known as the Hypocrisy State.
For years, South Carolina has relied on largess from the federal government, which pumps billions a year into the state by funding military bases, such as Fort Jackson, Charleston Air Force Base, Parris Island, Beaufort Marine Corps Station, Shaw Air Force Base and more. The feds support local economies in the western part of the state by subsidizing the Savannah River Site. Through the years, billions more have come in to pay for federal highways, Medicare, Medicaid, research aid, agriculture assistance and disaster relief. There’s a long list of federal aid to the Palmetto State.
But in recent years, state lawmakers seem to have conveniently forgotten about all of that federal money. It’s as if those pots were different from the one that Obama Administration tried to provide for health care through a 10-to-1 match of federal dollars, a much better deal than the match the state pays for the still-growing Medicaid program. With a pot of $11 billion in health care dollars in the balance, South Carolina politicos danced away, taking the hard line that they wouldn’t cotton to intrusion by the federal government and Obamacare.
Gov. Nikki Haley squawked the loudest. Across the General Assembly, there was incendiary rhetoric, saber-rattling, podium-thumping and general steam coming out of the ears of the Republican establishment to back the party line – that the federal government needed to stay out of the state’s business and let it deal with health care.
Translated politically, that meant they wanted Obamacare to fall flat on its face. Translated practically, they ignored some 200,000 people caught in a gap that kept them from getting a federal subsidy to gain access to health insurance simply because the state said no to expanding Medicaid through Obamacare. Despite the federal government’s $11 billion carrot over seven years, the state’s leaders left the working poor in a lurch and avoided providing help that could make real differences in the lives of people who don’t drive Lexuses.
Now comes new GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, generally seen as a more practical listener who is expected to lead a little differently than the ambitious Haley.
Right out of the gate, though, he sounds more like a Democrat with his hand out for $5.2 billion federal money than an arch-conservative Republican.
Wrote McMaster on Feb. 6: “History shows that South Carolina has given much to the nation, and we intend to give more. But it is too much at this time to ask our people to bear this burden alone, heightening fears of increased gas taxes, delay, missed opportunities and decline. An appropriation of five billion dollars from your infrastructure plan will help us bridge this economic gap and ignite a prosperity which will return the investment many times over.”
Where’s the rhetoric about the bad federal government? Where’s the talk about state’s rights? Where’s the saber-rattling, podium-thumping and general steam coming out of the ears of the Republican establishment that this $5 billion request is a slap in the face to their “values” of limited government?
I’ll tell you where: Caught somewhere between tucked tails from years of ignored responsibilities and an old library book hidden in the bowels of a basement.
Finally McMaster is suggesting something that the General Assembly ignored for 30 years about roads—investing.
While we don’t have much problem with McMaster seeking a share (frankly, why not ask for more?) of any federal infrastructure plan from the Trump Administration, state lawmakers shouldn’t think they’re off the hook. They still need to raise the state’s gas tax, which hasn’t changed in 30 years, and index it to inflation like neighboring states. This will create a sustainable source of revenue for fixing crumbling roads, which like education and health care, is an investment in the state’s economic future.
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