Originally created 01/07/01

... and S.C. session looms



Pro-Confederate and anti-Confederate battle flag groups are both gearing up for another fight in South Carolina's General Assembly this year. It's not going to happen.

This issue is like the crazy aunt in the attic, but lawmakers ought not get exercised over it. The flag was last year's battle.

It was settled by a compromise unsatisfactory to militants on both sides, but very satisfactory to legislators - even those who themselves had strong feelings for or against the flag. Even if they are not entirely pleased with the compromise, they are very pleased to be rid of the issue. Demonstrations or not, lawmakers won't take up the flag issue again when they convene Tuesday for the 2001 session.

Besides, they have much more important fish to fry. First, they have to implement the voters' wishes for a lottery. Already they can't agree on how to spend the lottery revenues. Some want to spend it according to Gov. Jim Hodges' recommendations - on higher education and college scholarships.

But many, including Aiken County's legislative delegation, believe the revenues will do the most good at the elementary school level. Getting kids' education off to a strong start is more important than helping students who have already achieved go to college.

However, debating how to spend lottery revenues is premature. The first order of business is to put together a lottery plan that is accountable and incorruptible. That in itself will be a huge task, inasmuch as there are already concerns that the lottery will somehow be exploited to benefit the interests of organized gambling, perhaps to bring video poker back.

Another huge issue is the budget. The gift that kept on giving - higher revenue growth year after - seems to be vanishing for 2001, leaving lawmakers with a revenue deficit instead of a surplus. They'll be working with Gov. Hodges to plug the gap by cutting spending, not raising taxes.

There's zero sentiment on the Aiken delegation's part to repeal any of the recently enacted tax cuts, including those on cars and groceries. That's not an option, says Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken.

But budget cuts are not easy to make either. Every spending program has a constituency. It will require more than a little bipartisan cooperation to cut the fat - and to leave the muscle alone. One good thing about economic downturns is that they force governments, no less than the private sector, to become more efficient. But only if taxpayers insist upon it.

The final big issue, of course, is reapportionment, i.e., redrawing lines for state lawmakers and U.S. House members. This is an immensely complicated task that, if not handled with sensitivity, could stir racial animosities even more than the flag fight has.

At least lawmakers have time to deal with it. The Palmetto State has one of the longest legislative sessions in the nation - six months. So they shouldn't need to call a special session for redistricting. If they do, voters ought to throw the rascals out.