Just to say something you don’t hear all that often

The quixotic demonstration at the State House yesterday by citizens sick of seeing our state’s infrastructure rapidly eroding under the stewardship of shortsighted politicians was of course an exercise in futility.

But I’m no stranger to that. A few minutes ago, looking for a link for a previous post that needed one, I went back to the last week of posts on my old blog I had at the paper, and ran across this forgotten item — which, as it happens, was day after the post in which I announced that I had been laid off:

Good job rejecting the tuition caps

This might sound strange coming from a guy who was already counting pennies (or quarters, anyway — I miscounted how many I had this morning in my truck, and ended up with a parking ticket because I didn’t have enough for the meter), with my two youngest daughters still in college. And now I’m about to be unemployed.

But I’m glad the House rejected tuition caps at S.C. colleges and universities. I have an anecdote to share about that.

Remember the recent day when college students wandered the State House lobbying lawmakers on behalf of their institutions. They wanted the state to invest in higher education the way North Carolina and Georgia have. Either that day, or the day after, I had lunch with Clemson President James Barker, and he told me an anecdote he had witnessed: He said the students were pressing a lawmaker NOT to support the tuition caps, because they were worried about their institutions being even more underfunded — they hardly get anything from the state — some are down below 20 percent funding by the state, and the rest has to come from such sources as tuition, federal research grants and private gifts. Eliminate the ability to raise tuition, and the institution’s ability to provide an excellent education is significantly curtailed. If we want lower tuitions, the state should go back to funding higher percentages of the schools’ budgets, the way our neighboring states with better higher ed systems do.

The lawmaker listened to the kids, and then said with great condescension, maybe you kids don’t care if tuition goes up, but I’ll bet your parents would like a cap. He thought he had them there, but the kids set him straight: None of their parents were paying the bills. These kids were working their way through schools and paying for it all themselves. And they didn’t want to see the quality of what they were working so hard to pay for be degraded by an artificial cap on tuition. The lawmaker had not counted on getting that answer.

I wish I had been there to see it, because I’ve been in a similar place before. Back in 95 or 96, Speaker Wilkins had brought his committee chairs to see us, and I started challenging the wisdom of their massive rollback of property taxes paid for school.One of them allowed as how he bet I was glad to get that couple of hundred dollars I didn’t have to pay. And I answered him that I was ashamed that I was paying so little through my property tax to support schools that I knew needed more resources. He said smugly that he was sure I wouldn’t want to give it back. I told him I didn’t see as how there was any channel for doing that, but if he could point me to the right person who would take my money and see it gets to the right place, I would pay the difference. He didn’t have a good answer for that.

It would be great if our lawmakers would stop assuming that all of us in South Carolina are so greedily shortsighted that we can’t see past our personal desire to pay less money, and that we are corruptible by a scheme to starve colleges of reasonable support.

Reading that now, with all that’s happened since — the rise of the Tea Party, the eagerness of Republicans, demoralized after their 2008 defeat, to embrace destructive extremism (and of course, what happens to the Republican Party as happens to South Carolina, which it dominates), the election of Nikki Haley over more experienced, less extreme candidates of both parties — it reads like thoughts from another century. And, of course, another place.

Imagine, even dreaming of our state caring enough about education to invest in it the way our neighboring states have, much less suggesting that we do so. How anachronistic can one get? All that’s happened since then is that South Carolina has run, faster every day, in the opposite direction — with out elected leaders firmly convinced that that is not only the right direction in which to run, but the only one.

6 thoughts on “Just to say something you don’t hear all that often

  1. Doug Ross

    Want change? Win some elections… that’s the way the system works.

    Want faster change? Implement term limits.

    There is the school of thought that voters see what value they get for their tax dollars and say, “Why spend more when they don’t deliver?”

    People will invest in things that look like they will be successful. Spending more on more of the same is a suckers game.

  2. Brad

    “Win some elections?” What? With the UnParty? I’d have to be really, really patient, wouldn’t I?

    “People will invest in things that look like they will be successful.”

    You’re absolutely right. And essential functions of government in South Carolina are underfunded to a point that they cannot possibly perform at a high level, at anything the average person would deem “successful.” So people disdain government services even more, and want to pay for it even less. This, of course, is exactly where the Grover Norquists and Jim DeMints and the other passionate haters of government wanted us to be. So I guess they’re happy.

    Just to use the one example of higher education. We have NEVER, even in our most flush times of growth, even TRIED investing in public higher education the way that North Carolina and Georgia have. We have NEVER said, “Let’s dig deep into our pockets and build something worthwhile, so that we can all be wealthier and wiser in the future.” Never. The results were predictable.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    The Grand Plan is to privatize EVERYTHING that was once the province of civic infrastructure and municipal responsibility.

  4. Jake

    When you elect such poor leadership as SC seems to like to do you better have good people people serving in the public service sector. Since our governor seems to feel now is the time to write her memoirs, it looks like there will be lots of slack to take up. Might have to write a letter to the editor along these lines.

  5. Doug Ross

    “We have NEVER, even in our most flush times of growth, even TRIED investing in public higher education the way that North Carolina and Georgia have.”

    That hasn’t stopped the schools from charging higher tuitions, right? So they are still getting the money, still getting record number of enrollees… what difference will the outcome be if tax dollars pay the tuition? You won’t be seeing better students nor better instructors will you? Or do you want the tuition to increase along with the funding from the state?


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