A disaster waiting to happenBY SCOTT SOKOL
The concept of returning federal money to the states is one with which the Republican Party finds endless fascination. This money, they say, should come back to the states in the form of block grants. We've heard it from Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and, here at home, from Gov. David Beasley.
Republicans want to return this money to the states and let state governments decide how the money should be spent. What this means is that funds being appropriated at the federal level would come back to South Carolina and be used according to the dictates of the governor and state legislature.
A recent poll by a well respected Washington firm Peter Hart's firm found that 57 percent of Americans do not trust their states to solve the problems of working families and the poor. So why the big rush to turn control of the money, and the programs they support, over to states?
With the recent passage of the welfare reform bill, the United States now is closer to block grants than ever before. This bodes ill for South Carolina.
The ongoing drama over law enforcement grants between Gov. Beasley and Department of Public Safety Director Boykin Rose has fueled the public's fears. Republicans, under the guise of returning power to the states, have shown that they can't be trusted to keep politics out of the grants process.
In the first major test of the new cabinet form of government, Gov. Beasley is attempting to fire Rose. The battle tests the independence that the legislature purposely gave to the state's top police agencies the head of DPS and the head of SLED to be free from direct meddling by the governor.
"If we're giving out federal grants based on the vicissitudes of the party in charge," Rose recently said, "why have a professional staff analyzing grants? Why not just have a list of party faithfuls you can give money to?"
This is exactly what Rose has accused the governor's office of doing with $750,000 of federal grant money. In a lawsuit against the governor, Rose alleges that the governor's office used grants to reward supporters.
It was avoiding this type of political favoritism that prompted the legislature to remove grant making from the governor's office during government restructuring in 1993.
Rose alleges that the elaborate process for insuring that grants are awarded on the basis of merit was circumvented by the governor's staff.
Regardless of whether Rose stays fired or not, it is obvious that the governor s office exerted undue influence on the grants process. If South Carolina can't handle relatively small grants for public safety, what will happen when scores of millions of welfare dollars flow into the state coffers?
"I think we need to give the structure a chance to work," said Sen. Jim Hodges (D-Lancaster), one of the architects of the legislation that removed the grants from the governor's office. "If there's a problem with grants," Hodges said, "it's a people problem, not a structural problem."
Given the current situation, it's becoming clear that the problem of block grants in the Palmetto State is the people in the governor's office.
Scott Sokol is executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
The drama over law enforcement grants between Gov. Beasley and Department of Public Safety Director Boykin Rose has fueled the public's fears. Republicans have shown that they can't be trusted to keep politics out of the grants process.