Issac Bailey | Haley’s economic success — and those she left behind

June 21, 2014 

Gov. Nikki Haley’s office has been busy touting South Carolina’s economic success, particularly the 56,277 jobs it has announced since January of 2011, as well as a 5.3 percent unemployment rate, not seen since 2001 and a full point below the national average.

But should those numbers make us forget the 289,000 — or 13,000, the number of poor South Carolinians and veterans, respectively, in the state who will continue lingering in the ranks of the uninsured because of Haley’s political calculation?

First, the economy.

Does Haley deserve credit? Yes. Had the jobless remained mired in double digits or above the national average, Haley either would have been blamed for such a bleak situation or told that she had not done enough to move the needle. Right or wrong, executives, whether CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, governors or presidents, are judged by the economic success of the organizations they lead. In bad times, her political opponents would have tied her closely to the economy; the same rules need to apply when things are going well.

Of course, job announcements aren’t guaranteed jobs. On June 16, the governor announced that 7,100 jobs would be coming to the state. There’s always reason to be somewhat skeptical of such announcements. The state has been burned several times in the past after giddily proclaiming jobs would be coming, only to have them fail to materialize, even after companies had been handed generous incentives packages. The executive can only do so much for the economy, and Haley opposed some federal provisions, such as tire tariffs, that helped pave the way for many of the manufacturing jobs the governor is bragging about. And wage growth is still not where we want it to be.

Even given all of that, it would take an extreme, hyper-partisan view to deny that we are recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and that those in charge deserve at least some credit.

That’s the good news, but things could be even better had Haley not decided long ago to play politics with poor residents’ health care access.

First, she sabotaged efforts to seriously consider if it would be better for the state to set up its own exchange for the Affordable Care Act, then she turned down a Medicaid expansion that could reach at least 289,000 poor residents (some estimates are as high as 500,000), including 13,000 military veterans.

Haley and others such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say the state can’t afford to take on the extra cost. By 2020, taxpayers will have to pay $1.7 billion for the expansion, even though it is fully paid for the first three years by the federal government, and no less than 90 percent thereafter.

What they don’t bother telling residents, though, is that a study from the University of South Carolina found that with the expansion, more than $11 billion would be pumped into the state’s economy – an additional 44,000 jobs would be created over the next six years – meaning we’d more than make up an investment that will amount to less than 10 percent of the expansion’s costs.

Yes, the state could provide insurance to up to half a million poor residents, allowing them to become more productive workers, among numerous other benefits, have the federal government pick up most of the tab and create more than 40,000 new jobs. But we aren’t doing it because it might sully Haley’s credibility with the far right, which lives to despise anything that President Obama supports, even if it is good for South Carolina.

In touting the state’s economic success, Haley has said her primary focus has been “jobs, jobs, jobs” since Day 1. But that’s not the whole story. She’s for jobs – as long as they aren’t associated with a Democratic president she seems more interested in opposing, than helping the most vulnerable in the state she leads.

Haley has every right to talk up the state’s economic turnaround. The rest of us have a responsibility to speak up for those she’s leaving behind.

Contact Issac Bailey at ibailey@thesunnews.com or follow him on Twitter @TSN_IssacBailey.

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