South Carolina Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater, is leading the Democrats' charge against GOP Gov. Mark Sanford's handling of the state's fiscal crisis. Moore says so far this year the state's revenue collections are running at least $40 million behind projections, yet the state's reserves are only $38 million.
When revenues came up short the last few years, the Budget and Control Board had to order midyear across-the-board budget cuts that proved extremely painful to many critical government services, including education, prisons and health care.
Moore, who failed in a valiant effort to push through the Republican-controlled legislature a plan to increase cigarette and sales taxes this year, talks as if the revenue shortfall is getting desperate.
"What are you going to do?" the senator asks. "Let the government dismantle itself and let public education as we know it fail?"
Republicans who control both the executive and legislative branches know that if they fail as dismally as Moore suggests, Democrats will pick up the pieces in next year's elections. Republicans aren't suicidal.
The fact is, there is a fundamental difference of philosophy being played out. Democrats seek to solve the fiscal crisis with targeted tax increases that they hope won't take a heavy toll on South Carolinians' pocketbooks.
Republicans believe tax increases of any kind will damage the state's economic recovery, so they're looking to boost the revenue stream for crucial services by getting rid of as much waste, fraud and spending abuse as possible. Fighting waste and fraud is the battle cry of nearly every GOP gubernatorial candidate, then after election the issue usually just dries up and goes away.
But that's not true with Gov. Sanford. He's holding agencies accountable. The governor has already held 20 public meetings where he's asked department heads to explain what they do and justify their spending policies.
There's no automatic re-funding of established programs. Zero-based budget principles are also being applied as the governor looks to restructure or consolidate agencies that are duplicative or superfluous.
There's good reason to believe there is fat in South Carolina's budget because of the government's growth during the boom years of the '90s. The cost of that government now runs 30 percent above the average cost of government in the other 49 states, says Will Folks, spokesman for the governor. He adds that the hard-working Carolinians who are taxed to maintain the government behemoth average 20 percent less in income than wage-earners in other states. Ouch.
We don't know whether Sanford will be able to make enough savings to replenish the state's depleted revenue stream. But he is showing leadership.
Don't give up on his policies until they're given a chance to work.