Don't let short-term gain hurt long-term prosperity

As we look ahead to the challenges we face at the national, state and local levels, let's keep this in mind: The steps we take to solve short-term problems can affect us for many years to come.

That's why it's important to keep some core values in mind as we work to right our economic ship in 2011. Declining tax revenues, particularly property taxes, may tempt us to do what we would avoid in flusher times.

First and foremost, we must watch out for our natural resources. They drive our key industries of tourism, retirement and real estate. Without them, we are Anywhere, America. We should guard them jealously, and their protection should guide our decisions on myriad issues.

That includes deciding where and how we build new homes and commercial projects when the market picks up again. It also includes how we handle dredging our waterways and marinas. And it should put restoring the health of waterways already damaged at the top of our to-do list, with the emphasis on doing something and not studying ourselves into a torpor.

We must balance the roles of private enterprise and the public sector as we seek to jump-start redevelopment. Those who would be the first to cry foul at government interference in their private business have been knocking on the public's door seeking help. If financial markets don't rebound, we'll see more of it. Balance and keeping an eye on the greater good are key. Government officials will have to weigh carefully the demands to help the private sector against their obligations to provide services to the public within a balanced budget.

That will come into play in efforts to keep the Heritage professional golf tournament on Hilton Head Island beyond 2011 if a title sponsor can't be found. What role, if any, beyond temporary help to bridge a sponsorship gap, should local, county and state governments play?

And it will come into play as developers seek incentives for redevelopment and new projects. Local officials should look to the parameters set out for measuring the benefits of special tax incentives contained in a bill sponsored by state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort. The level of due diligence it calls for will help ensure that the public's investment in a private business is a sound one.

The long view certainly is required of state officials who are to take up substantive tax law reform. We simply can't afford the myopia that has guided tax policy in years past.

Perhaps most important in all of this is public involvement. We repeat last year's call for greater civic engagement at all levels. Educate yourself on the issues. Offer constructive criticism. Work to find thoughtful solutions. Listen.

Let's all work to ensure that decisions made in 2011 reflect our values and serve our long-term interests.