The editorial team of Columbia's The State newspaper wrote a recent editorial in which they questioned Gov. Nikki Haley's tendency to spout off falsehoods. "We don't know the governor's heart," the paper's editors wrote, "or precisely how her brain works, so we can't say for sure whether she is merely reckless with the facts or whether she deliberately misstates them. That is, does she not care whether she's telling the truth, or is she a compulsive liar?"
Not surprisingly, the governor followed up with an op-ed in The State, responding to the paper's criticisms in the kind of remarkably upbeat way that has become something of her trademark. Rather than defend herself against the quasi-accusation that she is a liar, she offered five statements she's willing to stand by. The first of these was a claim of which she is presumably the proudest: "We've announced more than 56,000 jobs in 45 of 46 counties," Haley wrote.
Well, OK. That seems like a pretty strange way to defend yourself from charges that you are a compulsive liar, but whatever.
The fascinating thing about this completely non-exaggerated, verifiable, no-way-this-is-wrong statement by the governor is that it's largely meaningless. You know what, strike that "largely." It's just meaningless.
The thing is, you can "announce" all the jobs you want. It doesn't follow that they actually turn into jobs. Why not announce 156,000? Or a million?
But let's back up and think about what an "announced" job is. The "announcement" happens because a company, almost always in response to the offer of taxpayer-financed goodies by the state Commerce Department, agrees either to come to South Carolina or, if it's already here, to expand their Palmetto State operations. The company tells Commerce officials how much capital it plans to invest and how many jobs the investment will create as a result.
But what if the company doesn't deliver on its promises? And since the promised jobs are usually to be added over some number of years — often as many as 10 — is there anyone at the Commerce Department who makes sure all these "announced" jobs actually turn into actual jobs? Yes, Commerce officials might tell us that there are "clawback provisions" in the incentives agreements, but these agreements aren't revealed to the public — what right do taxpayers have to know how their money's being spent, right — so who knows if any of these "announced" jobs are real jobs?
When the Associated Press asked Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt about the thousands of jobs that had been "announced" by the Haley administration — this was back in January, when the number stood at a mere 40,000 — he responded in a curious way: "When we announce jobs, it's really a pipeline," he said. "The job doesn't come until the market is ready. There's a difference between announced jobs and payroll."
Any time a public official backs away from a claim, particularly one involving a definite number, and refers instead to a metaphor — a "pipeline" — it's time for everyone to go ahead and start worrying. Those "announced" jobs may never materialize.
But even if all of Haley's 56,000 jobs turn out to be actual jobs — increasingly unlikely in my view, but let's suppose they do — where are the jobs coming from? When a tire company moves from Dayton, Ohio to Sumter, S.C., the company isn't going to dismiss all its Dayton employees and hire new ones in Sumter. A large proportion of them will simply move to Sumter. Or when a multibillion-dollar aerospace company comes to North Charleston, company officials don't expect to hire machinists and aerospace engineers from among North Charleston's unemployed: they'll bring them from Washington or some other place. And so all those newcomers will become part of the governor's 56,000.
Which is fine. They'll come to Sumter and North Charleston and spend money — hooray. But their kids will need educating and their houses will need infrastructure and the roads they drive on will need expanding or repairing. All these things take public money. So even if we ignore the local and state taxpayer resources spent on luring a company from Dayton — the tax credits, the cash grants — we can't pretend these are job openings for all those out-of-work South Carolinians. The great majority of them are not.
And what happens when one of those companies decides it's made a terrible decision and moves elsewhere? Pay close attention to headlines around the state and you'll read about companies leaving and not just coming. Has someone in the governor's office or the Commerce Department been tasked with subtracting the requisite number from the giant and ever-growing grand total the governor likes to throw around?
Somehow I doubt it.