From Scott Carlberg

We know the pandemic has made economic life more difficult for many Americans. In fact, 41 percent of Americans now say that they would have a tough time managing an unexpected $250 emergency. (Source)

That’s the backdrop that sets the stage for decisions being made right now by lawmakers in the Carolinas and across the country. How about South Carolina?

Headlines about the pandemic – personal health, personal finances, the overall business environment – put a fiscal and moral leadership issue squarely front and center for each policymaker. We encourage legislators to keep in mind the current environment as they decide on Santee Cooper. Some facts:

The people:

The people in Santee Cooper’s service territory have been committed to pay billions of dollars for no productive use. $3.5 billion in carrying costs for the debt is estimated to be needed. This is on top of the debt owed now and paid in the past. These are the same people who might have trouble handling a $250 emergency.

Berkeley County has a 12.8 percent poverty rate and $56,697 average income. (Source) (Note that these numbers were measured ahead of the pandemic.)

Georgetown County has an 18.7 percent poverty rate and $46,967 average income.  (Source)

Horry County has a 17 percent poverty rate and $49,047 average income. (Source)

“450,000 plus people had been in need of some kind of relief.” (Source)

The economy:

In South Carolina, “The state’s budget forecasters on Friday (5/8) reported that money coming into the state for the month of April was down — about $400 million, or nearly 43%.” The Legislature gets a snapshot on May 14 of the damage on the state’s revenue.

Tourism is a $24 billion industry in South Carolina and, get ready, the pandemic will take “annual revenue from travel back to the level it was at about two decades ago in 2000 and 2001.” (Source)

“Housing advocates across South Carolina worry that as the spread of the novel coronavirus continues, a cascading effect from event cancellations and a slower economy could lead to more evictions.” (Source)

“Virus makes $10B budget passed by SC House mostly moot.” (Source)

“Research economist Joseph Von Nessen at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina said that businesses that rely on ‘in-person’ interactions could lay off 20% of their employees because of the coronavirus pandemic.” (Source)

The question:

Does the ultimate need to move Santee Cooper out of the state portfolio get any clearer? … to-de-risk this fiscal problem for South Carolina and customers?

With a once in a generation crisis the General Assembly can show its courage. This is a chance to live the promises we picked up from their campaign sites:

  • “I will continue to work to ensure our state government finds ways to be more efficient…”
  • “It’s time to reject showmanship and work on the issues…”
  • “I believe more government is not the answer.”
  • “Conservative, common sense solutions.”
  • “…an outspoken fighter against the good ole boy politics…”

With the loud and clear warnings, and the ability to eliminate the financial risks posed by Santee Cooper, why would policymakers not sell the utility to protect the finances of its citizens?