Sunday’s editorial offers the editorial board’s goals and hopes for the coming year:
Why does The Sun News offer its opinion? many of our readers ask. When the newspaper has an opinion, how can they expect the reporting to be fair to the other side?
These two questions have two separate answers. To the latter, we assure you that our opinions are kept separate from our reporting: The names of our editorial board members who form what you read in this space are printed at the left of the page, and we do not seek to influence the work of the reporters who write the articles. On the contrary, like you, we desire a fair and thorough exploration of every issue to help us form our own opinions.
To the former question, why we take the time to share what we think, the answer is simple: We want things to go well. The Sun News is an institution of the community, and the health of the Grand Strand is reflected in the health of its newspaper.
Often, by the nature of the newsgathering process, we have more immediate access to our leaders and their decisions than our readers do. Public officials who come to our offices to speak to reporters often ask to speak to the editorial board as well, for example, and our board members frequently attend the meetings or read the documents that lead to important decisions. However, our opinions are merely that – we offer our thinking as one more source as you refine your own.
What you read here is formed by consensus of a board whose members often begin with very diverse personal opinions, but we believe it is important to share with you the principles that hold us together – hence our annual tradition of outlining our priorities at the beginning of each year. In that spirit, here’s our description of where we’re coming from.
Open government | We believe, fundamentally, that the most vital element of a free society is an open government, that official secrecy and conspiracy are essential precursors to oppression. In much more practical terms, we believe that government is funded exclusively with your tax dollars, and that you thus own it, that the right to examine its workings should be yours by default except in only the most clearly defined circumstances. In short, while you are watching, it is much more difficult for the government to waste or abuse the money it has taken from you.
As an institution dedicated to reporting on the actions of government, our greatest area of policy expertise is on governmental openness. We are often the firsthand observers of acts of secrecy – government officials locking themselves behind closed doors to discuss policy matter the law requires to be public, refusing to disclose documents that belong to the public, or obfuscating how they are spending public money. On the other hand, we are often the first beneficiaries of open government. For example, the Myrtle Beach Police Department’s recent decision to put all its reports online makes it easier for us to share the information in those reports with you.
Thus, praising governmental openness and critiquing its secrecy will remain our first priority as an editorial board this year. This ought to be a truly nonpartisan issue – certainly, both political parties have seen notorious cases of corruption – and regardless of your response to our other opinions, we hope you will join us in demanding your right to an open government.
Good works | Time and time again, the most impressive examples of things going well come not from our government, but from people acting of their own volition. Charities, churches, volunteers, enterprising young people or seniors – the Grand Strand is blessed with people who have moved here because they deeply love the place and genuinely want to give back to it. As we continue our slow adaptation to new economic realities, opportunities to help those who need it abound.
We promise in 2011 to remain committed to highlighting these good works on our editorial page. While most of these individuals seek no reward, they do deserve some recognition – and we also hope that putting the spotlight on their efforts will encourage like-minded folks to join them.
Wise decisions | The past three years have seen relatively unprecedented levels of emergency actions with little public input: locally, a sales-tax increase for tourism ads unaccompanied by the usual referendum, for example, or the bank bailouts and stimulus bills at the national level. (These, of course, were necessitated by the ultimate planning failure: the widespread belief that the economy would improve indefinitely.) While the efficacy of each of these policies continues to be debated, the crisis now seems to be at bay, and we need renewed focus on long-term planning and feedback as we look to the future.
One good example of this is the recent referendum on The Coast RTA. Voters answered resoundingly that they want public transportation to be a significant part of the Grand Strand’s future – and that they’re willing to pay for it. The Horry County Council was wise to ask first, and now it must demand a viable plan for the future of the agency as it prepares to provide a stable funding source. Likewise, we applaud some of the regional planning initiatives that are beginning to take shape, and we also will continue our focus on seeking better transportation routes, protecting our natural resources and using our energy efficiently.
By far the most serious test of this concept will come in the form of this year’s state budget deliberations. Sadly, it is a test we appear to be failing. Lawmakers will speak of a “budget crisis,” but the real crisis was the failure of the state economy three years ago. The stimulus aid to state government was intended in part to give us two years to plan how government should look moving forward, but we squandered that time on petty debates, deferring again and again important questions about the structure of government and the shape of our tax code.
Our wiser state leaders called for these broader discussions, but they never took place, swallowed by our governor’s personal foibles and an acrimonious election year. The next step is likely to be balancing the shrunken budget on the backs of our most vulnerable (but politically disposable), which will hamper our state’s prosperity for years. Let’s pray that we do better in the short time we have left.
Public education | Last year, our editorial board refrained from making any one policy arena a specific priority, preferring to focus instead on broader principles. We’ve followed this notion again this year, with one exception: We intend to devote special attention to issues of public education.
This year, as the state seeks to resolve its years of overspending with dramatically reduced tax revenues without resorting to unpopular tax increases, lawmakers will surely have education funding in their sights. But we firmly believe that while educating the public is one of the most difficult tasks that modern society sets itself, it is also clearly one of the most vital, and we will do our utmost to advocate for a strong, open, accessible, accountable and, above all, effective public-education system.
Accountability | Obviously, the public deserves government officials who do not use their positions for personal gain. When our leaders put their own interests first – financially, politically or otherwise – we will continue to call them out for it.