South Carolina Comptroller Richard Eckstrom addressed the annual luncheon of the Americans for Constitutional Government this past Saturday at the Sugar Creek Clubhouse.
After a covered dish luncheon, Presbyterian pastor Mark Evans gave a devotional, after which Eckstrom spoke to the approximately 55-60 people in attendance. He began by addressing what he termed “the pink elephant in the room,” that is, the situation with Governor Mark Sanford.
“I’m a personal friend of the governor,” he said, admitting that “it’s difficult.” He said that he recently advised Sanford to read John 8, which deals with how Jesus handled the situation involving the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus offered forgiveness and grace. He further said that “we need to take inventory of ourselves” as well.
“I know he’s a good guy who didn’t do a good thing,” said Eckstrom, adding that “we shouldn’t throw him under the bus.” In fact, he believes that Sanford will be a better, stronger governor going forward.
Eckstrom went on to praise Sanford further. “He’s about the only thing standing between us and what’s going on in Washington. People love what he’s doing,” he said.
Eckstrom then spoke about the current economic situation, criticizing the bailouts. He said that he liked President Bush but was not supportive when Bush, along with then Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, pushed through the bank bailouts near the end of the Bush administration.
Upon receiving the money, Eckstrom noted, the banks immediately deposited the money in the Federal Reserve earning interest instead of lending it to businesses and individuals, which was the supposed reason for the bailouts in the first place. He also pointed out that several of the banks have since returned the bailout money after realizing all of the strings that were attached.
Eckstrom was also critical of GM, Chrysler and Ford, who all sought help from the government. He said that the problem of the Big Three was that they were not making products that people wanted to buy and that the industry was not nimble enough to keep up with changing market conditions.
“They had a bad business model,” Eckstrom said.
State governments, said Eckstrom, were also guilty of following bad business practices, such as increasing spending levels to match increases in revenue, instead of saving some of that surplus for a rainy day.
The fiscally-conservative Sanford is familiar with the concept of economic cycles, according to Eckstrom, and knew that the boom years earlier in the decade would naturally be followed by a bust.
Eckstrom said that Sanford had mentioned to him several years ago the Genesis account of the seven years of abundance followed by the seven lean years, and that it was wise to prepare for the tough times that were bound to come.
Eckstrom said that Sanford had tried to set aside some money for the lean years but that the legislature had rebuffed him. In fact, Eckstrom said that last year he and Sanford, seeing the economic downturn that was coming, had been referred to as “Chicken Littles” for calling for a slowdown in state spending.
For example, according to Eckstrom, South Carolina has accumulated $10 billion in retirement benefit promises that are unfunded. During the recent battle over whether or not to accept the federal government’s offer of stimulus money, Sanford had said that he would accept the money if it could be used to pay down debt, but that the legislature had said, “No.”
Of the $361 million that South Carolina has so far received, Eckstrom said that $250 million of that money has gone to expand Medicaid and $51 million has gone to bolster unemployment benefits.
Another item that Eckstrom addressed was transparency in government. He said that he has put on-line the spending of the various state agencies. Now, anyone who wants to can find out how much state money any particular agency has spent. This listing is updated monthly. He also said that it will not be long before the finances of every school district in the state are also on-line.