New Southern strategies emerging for the 1980s

As Ronald Reagan prepares to move into the White House in Washington, a lot of other people are moving, too. Many continue to pack their belongings into moving vans and head for the warm climate and growing economy of the South.

And like the new President, this region of the country faces some pressing challenges, in the view of a group of political, economic and social issues experts. Foremost among looming problems:

* A likely reduction in federal aid of many kinds.

* Continuation of rapid population growth, confirmed by the latest census figures and projections by population experts.

To help meet these challenges, a group of experts commissioned by the Southern Growth Policies Board (SGPB), a private, nonprofit organization, is drawing up a list of suggested actions.

These experts see the potential for much greater use of Southern coal and oil reserves, ways to bolster the finances of Southern cities, and the need to offer more opportunities for the poor.

Their still tentative recommendations bear a flavor of less dependence on federal largess and better use of state and local government and private industry.

In some ways, this approach is impelled by a realistic look toward what the Reagan administration is likely to do (or not do). By the experts -- who began their work before the election -- are also reflecting a regional tilt toward less federal control over the state activities.

At the same time, SGPB realizes that federal policies often have a greater impact on the region than state or local policies. The SGPB plans to continue its efforts to make sure the burden and benefits of federal policies fall evenly across the nation.

The various experts tapped by the SGPB have examined four areas: energy, cities, families, and the economy. Some of their major findings and tentative recommendations follow:

Energy: To make greater use of the region's coal, federal strip mining reclamation laws should be changed, says Art Wacaster, of the Southern States Energy Board. (Mr. Wacaster is energy task force coordinator for the SGPB). Current law calls for restoring the pre-mining contour of the land.

But, says Wacaster, "You can't restore a mountain once you've chopped off the side of it." SGPB energy task force members suggest requiring restoration to some socially acceptable use without regard to original contour lines.

The federal law mandating a change from natural gas to coal or other fuel for large power plants and certain industries should be amended, he says. The law's burden falls unevenly on the South which is heavily dependent on natural gas, he says. Existing power plants should be allowed to continue using natural gas; industries should be allowed to use Whatever fuel they find most economical, says Wacaster.

Cities: Some Southern cities, especially in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas , are struggling financially.

But "there's really a feeling the federal government is not the place to go" to resolve such problems, says Patricia Dusenbury, SGPB's cities task force coordinator.

Instead, she says, states should allow cities a greater mix of a revenue-raising methods than many have now. Lacking this, the task force is leaning toward a call to bolster the state's own revenue sharing programs to boost cities.

And there is a feeling that federal requirements for aiding the handicapped and non-English-speaking students are too costly. "Do you know anyone who teaches geometry in Vietnamese," task force coordinator Dusenbury asks?

Families: About 45 percent of the nation's "very poot" children live in the South, according to the SGPB. Seventy-two percent of the nation's pockets of high infant mortality are in the South.

A high number of families are headed by women who work. Many who don't work also do not get welfare because of state rules against aiding families with an unemployed male living at home.

What is needed is more emphasis on job training and placement for welfare recepients -- and aid to families with two unemployed parents, says Paula Breen, task force coordinator for the SGPB.

Economy: To spur further economic growth, SGPB tentatively suggests: (1) repeal of state limits on interest rates; (2) statewide banking; (3) greater state andlocal spending on schools; (4) and reduction of protective tariffs.

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