By Rep. Shannon Erickson
The South Carolina House is in full swing and budget hearings have been occupying most of the time here in Columbia. The House Ways and Means full committee has just finished the House Budget. It will be printed and laid on the member’s desk next week and the full floor debate will begin around the week of March 13. The budget can be found online beginning next week at www.schouse.gov.
The budget process begins with the governor’s budget recommendations, then moves on to several weeks of hearings which included every state agency and department so that members can determine how to best allocate funds. After our House debate and vote, it will then head over to the Senate where it will be debated and eventually returned to the House. The last step will be a conference committee to resolve differences. So, between now and then, we can expect many variations and changes.
Some details: The proposed general fund budget is just over $6 billion; that includes about $900 million more in revenue than last year because of the improving economy. It is proposed that teachers and other S.C. public employees get their first state-initiated raise in four years although districts have had that ability all along with their budget flexibility. The House budget-writing committee approved increasing a key education funding source by $153-million for teachers and assistants salaries. Teachers’ raises would differ by district, but all would receive at least 2%. Beaufort will be slighted again on the EFA portion of that funding, but we have put some measures into the budget to draw down some funds from that stream. The committee also approved a 2% raise for most other state workers. Department of Public Safety officers would receive a 5% raise. Public employees will see extra costs this year, paying an extra 4.6 percent for their state health insurance and most likely will have to pay an extra 1% of their salaries into the state retirement fund to help make up for its $13 billion deficit.
Other budget headlines:
• SAVING: Nearly $100 million dollars is being put in the “rainy day fund” that fully funds that savings account. We need to be prudent and keep putting money in that contingency fund for the next economic downturn.
• PLANNING AHEAD: $180 million was set aside to deepen the Charleston harbor, which would fully fund the state match of this $300-million project.
• LISTENING TO NEEDS: Adding $30 million for local transportation commissions to repair roads.
On other topics:
H.4549 “Third-party voter registration organization” will be coming to the House floor for a vote soon. I have been studying this issue a great deal and what I have discovered is that this bill will not affect volunteers who hand out voter registration forms for individuals to fill out and send in on their own. It will only come into play IF the volunteer (individual or group) takes charge of the return of the voter applications to the voter registration office. What has been discovered is that the potential exists for someone to believe that they registered when in fact their form was not returned to the voter registration office. I am well aware that there are many groups who take on the community service of registering voters and am very appreciative of their help. However, some of these groups and individuals are well organized, others are not. Some of these groups have altruistic motivations and others may not.
The bottom line is that when someone takes on the role of registrar, making the promise to other citizens that they will become registered to vote in our state, they have an obligation and responsibility to do just that and should be accountable if they do not.
The Department of Administration Legislation has returned from the Senate with the many amendments and alterations. I have grave concerns about some of the action the Senate took with this bill and am carefully studying their version to decide whether it is best to concur or non-concur. The changes needed are too important not to get right and we must have a strong bill that will work in a positive way for South Carolina.
H.3241 “Public Charter School Bill” is still hung up in the Senate! Please call and write all of the senators, especially Senators Ford, Leventis and Matthews who have placed a hold on the legislation moving forward:
• Sen. Ford: firstname.lastname@example.org and 803-212-6124
• Sen. Leventis: email@example.com and 803-212-6000
• Sen. Matthews: firstname.lastname@example.org and 803-212-6056.
As always, thank you for allowing me to be your Beaufort voice in Columbia. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to call or write: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.