Dr. Oran Smith

Why “The Inevitable” Didn’t Happen

Tax & Budget
March 13, 2015

Dr. Oran Smith

When the week began, the South Carolina House was in session bright and early, with some members enthusiastic to borrow nearly $500 million dollars. Known officially as Part III of the state budget, this gleaming yellow brick road to debt had come out of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee with a unanimous vote. The borrowing plan also had the support of most of the Republican and Democrat leadership in the chamber. On Monday this trip to Oz seemed not like an adventure, but a real estate closing, an inevitable pro-forma event where the details had been worked out, all that was needed was a few signatures.

So what happened?

First, the back benchers spoke up. Behind closed doors, a dedicated group of rank and file Republican  House members suggested that the GOP Caucus had lost its way. Tipsy on low interest rates, they said, Republicans were acting like the Scarecrow who hadn’t the brains to find a way to Pay As We Go. 

Then the people found their voice. Legislators were pummeled from back home, causing the  switchboard and social media to melt down. Soon the $470 million bill was half that, then a third of it, then $0. As the week dragged on, constant pressure from citizens helped numerous Cowardly Lions find the courage to say no.

For our part, Palmetto Promise Institute asserted that to borrow that kind of money willy nilly showed the House was missing brains and courage, but also heart. Like The Tin Man—creaky and rusty—the GOP-led House was breaking a promise to our children, saddling them with debt. 

As we said earlier this week, it was fortuitous that legislators got a peek at the new Rich States, Poor States last week, revealed by Economist Jonathan Williams just a block from the SC Statehouse. His ALEC study, co-authored with Dr. Art Laffer and Heritage’s Stephen Moore, shows South Carolina borrows too much already, putting us on the heels of Kentucky for the honor of the #1 ranking for borrowing in ratio to tax revenue.

So, here we are 100 hours later, and the inevitable didn’t happen. The Great Credit Oz turned out to be a phony, and the state of South Carolina won’t borrow a half-billion for buildings, a credit line for yet to be determined K-12 education expenses, something called “economic development infrastructure,” etc. Like Dorothy, thankfully we’re now back in the real world. The tornado has passed…and there’s no place like home.

Dr. Oran P. Smith is Palmetto Promise Institute’s Policy Senior Fellow.