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nikki haley

S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley is picking a fight with the state of Georgia over South Carolina’s anti-competitive port facilities – although her basis for doing so (as well as what she hopes to accomplish with her rhetoric) is unclear.

“You now have a governor who does not like to lose,” Haley told a crowd of S.C. State Ports Authority supporters in Charleston. “Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore.”

Um … what?

How is it Georgia’s fault that the Port of Charleston has slipped from No. 4 to No. 10 in the nation over the last six years? And how is it Georgia’s fault that our state has failed to build a port in Jasper County, the last remaining deepwater port location on the Eastern Seaboard?

The last time we checked, Georgia was actually working with South Carolina to see this project completed – because they know that our state would (eventually) best them in any federal court case over the proposed facility.

Look, people … it isn’t Georgia’s fault that the rest of the country is kicking South Carolina’s ass when it comes to port competitiveness – it’s South Carolina’s fault.

Specifically, our state continues to operate its port system under a 1950’s-style “total state control” model that forbids private investment in public infrastructure Meanwhile our competitors – like Alabama and Virginia – have dramatically expanded their port infrastructure (and created thousands of new jobs) by leveraging private investment. On top of that, entrenched special interests in Charleston continue to prevent the S.C. State Ports Authority(SPA) from moving forward with a new deepwater port in Jasper County – something the agency promised it would do five years ago.

Sadly, for all his talk of supporting free market reforms and economic competitiveness, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford has been totally worthless on this issue – appointing SPA board members who have toed the line for the failed status quo. Also Sanford, House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Glenn McConnell were specifically warned in July 2006 that South Carolina’s restrictions against free market participation in port expansion were “counterproductive” and would “discourage investment” in our facilities.

They didn’t listen … and now we’re paying the price.

Indeed, the failure to leverage private investment to expand in Charleston (and build a port in Jasper) represents one of the costliest consequences of South Carolina’s antiquated, government-run approach to economic development – with Sanford, Harrell and McConnell sharing equally in the blame. Thanks to this failure, our state has lost out on billions in private investment and thousands of jobs – which is flat out inexcusable in a state that consistently ranks among the nation’s leaders in unemployment.

Earlier this month, we noted that Haley should “use her power to appoint Ports Authority board members who will lift our state’s ridiculous ban on private investment before it is too late.” We also encouraged her to “aggressively support the construction of a new deepwater port in Jasper County.”

Trying to make Georgia the bogeyman for our state’s lack of competitiveness? That’s not going to accomplish a damn thing.

When it comes to our failure to take advantage of one of our few competitive assets, South Carolina has no one to blame but its own leaders. Let’s hope Haley recognizes that reality before she takes office and makes her decisions accordingly.

Otherwise, our port position will continue to plummet …

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