Gov. Mark Sanford gives his last State of the State address Wednesday night. Sanford will speak to the media Wednesday morning about his speech, but no doubt it will focus in part on the state’s dismal financial state.
But Board of Economic Advisers Chairman John Rainey has his own very general outlook on the state’s state and its problems, which he asserts go beyond the economy and are not all connected to the current recession. In a recent interview, Rainey told us that South Carolina is loaded with systemic problems that will take many years to change.
Rainey says South Carolina is simply a poor state, and it will take many years of selfless, dedicated leadership to make a difference. He says most of the state’s problems are connected to poverty. “It’s interesting that we have the highest rate of home ownership in the nation,” says Rainey. “But it’s because we have the highest number of manufactured homes, not per capita, but on an absolute basis.”
Rainey says the public in general has not acknowledged the struggle felt by so many South Carolina residents, a struggle in place before the recession began. “Most families in this state, every month line up their bills on the kitchen table,” he says. “And they pay them in the order of the closeness of the ‘take-back man’ to that particular item. They use every dollar every month just to make ends meet. That’s where we are.”
Rainey told the Democratic Caucus a decade ago that totally turning around South Carolina’s public education system could be a century-long effort. “But education is only one piece,” he says. “You’ve got a breakdown of the families. Children having children. Single-parent homes. Just about everyone at prisons like Wateree have drugs in their background somewhere. Unemployment. Under-employment. They’re all there.”
Rainey says the overall picture won’t change until politicians become more willing to make the hardest decisions, unpopular decisions, even if it means they don’t have a political career. “What they have to do is look at one term as the only one they’ve got, whether it’s two years or four years,” he says. “And we’ve got to go in there and tackle problems. And they have to have the attitude that if it cost their seat, that’s what you’ve got to do. We need to go back to the citizens’ legislature, like at the first period of our country, where people went to the capitol, did what they could do, then went back to the farm. We don’t have that now.”
One of those tough decisions, says Rainey, would be protecting the state’s reserve funds, which he says were depleted more than $100 million each year between 2003 and 2007.
Rainey says politicians have to overcome the addiction to power. “You get used to being chairman, senator or governor, or president,” he says. “It does it to all of us. It’s intoxicating. It would do it to me! So how do politicians give up this instinct to never give up, until we’re turned out of office?”