The South may be one jump ahead of the rest of the nation in coming to grips with the kind of tough budget cuts President Reagan is proposing. Key Southern political, business, and academic leaders have just unveiled their blueprint for Southern development in the decade ahead.
It looks as if most of it was drawn by Mr. Reagan.
Though written before details on many of the President's proposals were known , the report reflects the kind of national discontent with the size of federal government that gave him such a sweeping victory in November.
The authors of the report "came to grips with the stark realization they could not advocate a leaner federal budget and at the same time say that the future of the South depends on larger federal largess," says David Mathews, former secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Ford and chairman of the commission that wrote the report.
Prepared at the joint request of 12 Southern states, "The Future of The South" preliminary report is the first post-Reagan election attempt by any group of states to chart how to go furthest on the fewest federal dollars.
The course charted is toward more jobs, greater production of fuels, strong cities, and healthier, better-educated children.
Though rapidly growing, lower wages, and less spending on education than any other region, according to the report.
But instead of calling primarily for more federal aid to combat these problems, the new Southern blueprint calls for:
* Less federal regulation so that private industry and local government can be more effective.
* Better use of state tax incentives and better planning to attract more foreign and domestic investment and promote exports.
* State legislation granting cities more self-rule and taxing and other powers so that they can better "help themselves."
An examination of the report shows many of its specific proposals parallel recommendations by the President. The Southern study does, however, call for federal funding of projects that may not have Reagan's support.
The proposals, like those being offered by the President, already have their critics.
"What if you do get more affluent and your quality of life doesn't change," asks Larry McGeehee, professor of American studies at the University of Tennessee.
"The Future of The South" focuses too much on development and not enough on the humanities, the environment, education, and the need for better race relations, he says.
Noted Southern historian George Tindall faults the report's focus on "economic development as them thing." This viewpoint overlooks the fact that company executives seeking a place to open or expand a plant want an attractive community with good schools and cultural facilities, says the University of North Carolina professor.
The South, he warns, is "well on the way" to making some of the mistakes the North made in its period of rapid growth, he says.
But ecologist Eugene Odum of the University of Georgia sees signs that the South is being more cautious about development. He cites a recent decision by the city of Athens, Ga., not to allow the opening there of two small chemical companies with a "bad record" of waste disposal in the North.
"The Future of The South" makes fleeting mention of the environment and of racism, which it says is an "unsolved" problem.
"It's a no-nonsense, very practical" report, says E. Blaine Liner, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, which coordinated the report. The board is a nonprofit research group sponsored by 12 southern states.
Commission members who prepared the report, released Feb. 21, included mayors and state planning, energy, and human resource officials, along with several business leaders.