So much of what is wrong with South Carolina's politics, economy, and society was on vivid display last week in two big news stories.
First, on Sunday, The Post and Courier reported that college tuition rates in South Carolina's state-supported colleges were the highest in the Southeast. The cost of a four-year university degree has tripled in this state over the last decade. The P&C story singled out the College of Charleston as "this year's poster child for tuition increases with an eye-popping 14.8 percent increase to in-state rates." At the current rate of increase, an 8-year-old today would need $120,000 for in-state tuition in 2020, according to the P&C story.
The reasons for the rate hikes are complex, and there is plenty of blame to go around. But most of it must be placed at the door of the General Assembly.
Funding for our state colleges and universities has simply not kept up. In fact, it has declined over the past decade. Of course, the entire state budget has taken a beating in recent years, but there is something particularly fatalistic about cutting funding for public schools and colleges.
As politicians love to tell you, "Our children are our future." It is one of the few things you will ever hear a politician say that is so clearly, and so startlingly, true. However, our elected officials in Columbia would rather defund that future.
The reason the states — including South Carolina — got into public education and public colleges in the 19th century was to make education available to a broad segment of the public. It was an early and important step in the democratization of the young Republic, a step that was quite late in coming to the South.
In other regions of the country, it was argued that educated people made for better citizens and better voters. That argument never held much water in the South, where voting rights were limited to a narrow demographic of land-owning white males and citizenship, as a concept, was pretty much limited to the same.
Then, after World War II, the push came for broad economic development in the South and the value of education took on new meaning. An educated workforce was needed both for line production and for management. If we wanted a better future, we needed better schools and colleges. It was that simple, and South Carolina invested seriously in education from the 1950s into the '80s. But today education is treated more like state parks and highway rest stops — as a budgetary item that is dispensable in tough times.
Only 22 percent of South Carolina adults have bachelor's degrees, ranking us 39th in the nation. And some people in Columbia seem to think that's good enough. Yet one thing is certain: As the price of a college education goes out of reach for more and more middle-class folk, the wealthy will always be able to educate their children. And as they do, South Carolina will begin to look more and more like the feudal society it was in the 19th century.
I think some people in Columbia would be quite comfortable with that. They have always believed that they were there to serve wealth and power, and shrinking the educated middle class would be a good way to do that in a contracting economy.
The other piece of information that made this picture complete arrived Wednesday, when The State newspaper reported that Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley wants to do away with the state's corporate income tax. She calls it "job creation."
Scrapping the corporate income tax has been a Republican wet dream for years. (The proposal is further proof that Haley is just Mark Sanford in lipstick.) South Carolina already has the 37th lowest tax structure in the nation. If low taxes were all that was needed to attract jobs and industry, this state would be developed from the mountains to the coast. But in fact, when corporate scouts go looking for a site for a new factory or headquarters, they are looking for more than low taxes. They are looking for an educated workforce. They are looking for good schools and affordable colleges and universities for their children. And they want the kind of cultural amenities that only tax dollars can pay for.
You won't get any of those things by cutting corporate taxes, Nikki. But, of course, you will please your friends and supporters immensely, and that's really what it's all about, isn't it?
Making college unaffordable to the middle class and rewarding the wealthy with corporate tax cuts: It sounds like a perfect formula for driving this state back to the 19th century.
See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.