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S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley made her first three appointments to the S.C. State Ports Authority (SPA) board of directors on Monday – although it’s not immediately clear if her moves will do anything to advance the long-overdue reforms needed to restore our state’s competitive position.

Haley named former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, AT&T South Carolina President Pamela Lackey and campaign donor Patrick McKinney, a Charleston developer, to the influential Charleston-based board at the agency’s Monday morning meeting.

Lackey and McKinney replace a pair of Sanford appointees who were named to the board just last year, while McMaster replaces anti-reform board member Harry Butler. Haley failed to remove SPA Chairman Bill Stern and Whitemarsh Smith – two longtime (and vocal) anti-reformers.

Once the fourth-busiest port in America, Charleston has seen its competitive position plummet over the last six years. In fact, the port has slipped all the way to No. 12 in the nation according to the American Association of Port Authorities.

Why?

Well, as we’ve noted on literally dozens of occasions, South Carolina continues to operate its port system under a 1950s-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.

For all his talk of supporting free market reforms and economic competitiveness, former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford failed miserably to “walk the walk” with respect to port issues – appointing political cronies to the SPA who have maintained the failed status quo. That’s inexcusable – particularly after Sanford, House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Glenn McConnell were specifically warned in July 2006 that South Carolina’s restrictions against free market port expansion were “counterproductive” and would “discourage investment” in our facilities.

Haley, meanwhile, started talking trash regarding port-related issues shortly after her November election – rhetoric which has been matched by the state of Georgia.

In fairness, Georgia operates under a similar model as the Palmetto state – but its government has a huge cash advantage (and knows how to prioritize spending). South Carolina? We’re too busy funding balloon festivals and sending pork to the wrong state to find the money to pay for a needed port expansion study.

For all her bluster, Haley has yet to take a position on whether she would support using private investment to expand our port infrastructure – which is unfortunate given the opportunities that exist.

In addition to Charleston, the Palmetto state is home to the last remaining deepwater port site on the Eastern Seaboard – which also happens to be ground zero in our state’s “port war” with Georgia. Five years ago, the Ports Authority pledged to offer its “full faith and resources” to building a port on this location in Jasper County – but entrenched special interests in Charleston continue to prevent this from happening.

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