Monday, November 24, 2008

Even in Tough Times, There Is Much to be Thankful For

Last week we covered the high spots of the Waddell Mariculture Center get-together, which was a big part of the Coastal Caucus event. It was a big success and Al Stokes and his crew will benefit from the increased understanding among my legislative colleagues as to the tremendous contribution this excellent facility makes to our state’s economy.

The balance of the meeting was held at the Westin Resort o­n Hilton Head Island, with major sponsorship from the Board of Realtors and the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. We had a lively group of over 150 interested participants. They were involved in several discussions having to do with issues of funding disparity between high growth coastal areas, principally Beaufort and Charleston counties, and the rest of the state. We went over strategies for addressing education funding, as well as an increasingly serious problem with mental health funding disparity.

With the room full of real estate professionals, the main issue of the day was, of course, point of sale reassessment. This was a measure that made some sense when real estate prices were escalating rapidly, but has had the unintended consequence of further depressing the already abysmal real estate sales environment, now that growth has stalled.

I think it is important for the real estate professionals and the community at large to understand that the House of Representatives voted 104 to 0 to reverse the point of sale provision. Unfortunately, this crucial measure stalled in the Senate. The debate in the House fully illuminated the seriousness of the housing debacle, with its implications for the wider economy. We responded immediately with a common sense measure to take this burden off the housing market.

The Senate, however, has rules that allow a very few members to hold up legislation, regardless of the urgency of the need or the dire consequences of inaction. This time, three people held a good portion of the state’s economy hostage for reasons that this legislator found to be without merit. Needless to say, we will take another whack at point of sale in the new year.

Locally, our friends at the Bluffton Township Fire District at putting o­n their 4th Annual Boston Butt Fundraiser at Tanger Outlet o­ne o­n the food court. Please call Crystal at 757-1948 before December 5 to order your Boston Butt, which can be picked up December 12. Not o­nly are we in for some spectacular dining, the proceeds go to support the brave, three-year-old Olivia Custer, in her struggle with Mitochondrial Defect. Bluffton takes care of its own.

One final note o­n the political front: This is the time of year when we in the House are contending for positions o­n the various committees and sub-committees. The Beaufort County delegation needs at least o­ne member o­n Judiciary and o­ne o­n Ways and Means. Currently, I serve o­n Judiciary but am rallying hard for Ways and Means. If the delegation can come up with a good committee distribution, our ability to bring our tax dollars back home will be vastly enhanced. This is important during good times, but essential during challenging times. I will keep you posted.

Please have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, remembering that even with our current troubles, we still have much for which to be grateful. Give thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Waddell Meeting Lends Hope For Mariculture Center's Future

From my comments in the last several columns, you probably gathered that a lot was riding o­n the Coastal Caucus meetings last weekend at the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton and at the Westin Resort o­n Hilton Head Island. I am happy to report that the event was a resounding success despite sky-high expectations and a touch of Friday evening rain. In fact, the meetings were so well attended and the programs so well presented, that the bar has been reset for the next get-together to an altogether unrealistic height.

My special thanks go to Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Bill Miles, his VP for government affairs, Chris Long, as well as chamber logistics specialist Anna Cauthen, for their flawless planning and execution. Some things just have to be left to the pros.

And speaking of pros, Dr. Chris March and Friends of the Rivers board chairman Dave Harter gave a presentation that was easily the high point of the Friday evening portion of the meeting. Dr. Marsh is head of the Lowcountry Institute, as well as the Port Royal Sound Conservancy, and as such, is more than passing familiar with all the features of our local watersheds that account for their pristine beauty and unsurpassed productivity. As head of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club, Dave Harter can speak passionately and persuasively about how our local waters support a thriving and diverse fishery that, in turn, attracts anglers worldwide to visit our area and support our local economy.

Together, Chris and Dave make it perfectly clear that doing the right things to protect our natural assets is more than just protecting our cultural heritage; it is also supporting a huge fraction of our state’s economy. Their explanation of the role of the Waddell Mariculture Center in both groundbreaking research and fisheries management should aid my task of securing dependable and appropriate funding for the Bluffton physical plant, as well as the overall mission of this state of the art facility.

It didn’t hurt that the presentation was given o­n the high bluff overlooking the Colleton-Okatie River, with a spectacular view of Spring Island and Port Royal Sound in the distance.

One of the persistent themes of my legislative career has been that we need to treat our pristine Lowcountry environment with care and respect. Not o­nly is it the foundation of our quality of life, it is the bedrock of our economy. If we shortchange the protection of our natural resources, we are sabotaging the ability of our taxpayers to make a decent living, not to mention denying them the life affirming benefits of living in the pristine Lowcountry.

Hearing those powerful presentations in such a gorgeous setting will help the many members of the General Assembly in attendance to appreciate the wisdom and prudence of good stewardship. We all know the truth of this proposition, but sometimes it helps to be reminded.

Next time, a few thoughts o­n the Westin Resort portion of the caucus meeting.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Council Candidates Should Tone Down A Little

The bulk of the elections are behind us and I want to get back to the people’s business as soon as possible. The o­ne election locally that is apparently not done is the Bluffton Town Council race. I believe it will be rerun as a result of a series of voting mix-ups that disenfranchised a number of our residents. I want to respectfully request that some of the candidates dial back the rhetoric a notch or two. At the end of this process, we are all going to have to work together, and some of the language I am hearing is disappointingly inflammatory.

Tomorrow will be our first delegation meeting in quite a while. It will also be the first meeting with our new senator-elect, Tom Davis, in attendance. I have worked with Tom for many years, as he was the chief of staff for Gov. Sanford until he undertook the race for the state senate from District 46. He survived a tough primary and went o­n to run a classy campaign against a game opponent in the general election. We all looking forward to having Tom o­n the delegation team, and expect great things from this smart, dedicated public servant.

Also, tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. Please seek out the veterans in our community and recognize them for their service. I personally don’t think we can overstate the debt of gratitude we owe to these men and women. Our recent election, with all its rancor and emotion, was made possible by the sacrifices of veterans starting a couple of hundred years ago. Our rights to choose our leaders, to speak our minds, to practice our religions without interference, and to live in a decent, prosperous society are the result, in no small part, of the courage and sacrifice of our veterans. We won’t forget.

As always, the Sun City Veterans are going all out for Veterans Day. They are holding their community appreciation tomorrow from 10:30 to 11:30. There will be a flyover by F-18 fighter jets, and the address will be given by retired U S Army Major General Larry Budge.

Be aware that American Legion Post 205 is having their Veteran’s Day Golf Tournament at Old Carolina Golf Club. The format is a nine-hole two-person scramble, and should be very interesting. Call Old Carolina Golf Club for details.

New this year, Hampton Hall and Toll Brothers have donated 240 rounds of golf o­n their excellent Pete Dye golf course to active duty or retired military personnel. All this week, just call the Hampton Hall Pro Shop at 815-8720 and make a reservation with military identification. They will also be serving drinks and snacks at the clubhouse after the golf outing. The cart fee is not included.

Let’s hope that the good example set by Hampton Hall is followed by other developers with high level amenities they might make available to our brave military.

Next week, I will have a report o­n the Coastal Caucus event at the Waddell Mariculture Center. We will not o­nly be talking about this critical facility, but also the need’s of the coastal area, in terms of roads, education and environmental dollars. This meeting has been a long time coming, and will feature much of the best of the Lowcountry.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Understand What's On The Ballot Before Voting

The big event is tomorrow—Election Day.

From all indications, turnout will dwarf our usual participation. While high turnout is great, there will be some inconvenience and some frustration as the system strains under the load. Please be considerate of the poll workers and the other voters. Voting is the sacred rite of democracy, for which hundreds of thousands of brave Americans have sacrificed life and limb. An hour or two of waiting is a trivial matter compared to what it has taken to achieve and protect this privilege.

If we all will take a few moments to look over the sample ballots printed in this paper, it will make things go a lot smoother. Trying to read and understand the ballot, especially the amendments, while in the booth, is not time efficient. It is also inconsiderate of those waiting to vote. Please come prepared, with a good understanding of what you are voting o­n, as well as a good attitude about what it is going to take to have a satisfactory voting experience.

Usually, I wait until the end of the column to talk about the number of calls we get and process. I want to change that somewhat, due to the changing nature of the calls we are now receiving. We got over 500 calls last week, and an alarming number were simply folks looking for work. What you have been reading in the papers and hearing o­n the news about credit sluggishness and a business downturn has now arrived in our neighborhood. This is even more vexing when you consider that we in Beaufort County are in much better shape job-wise than almost any county in the state.

I want to address this immediately and locally before there is time for any negative psychology to accumulate and begin to build o­n itself. To that end, I have been talking to Ms. Graves at First Baptist Church of Bluffton and others in the faith community about having a job fair in the Calhoun Street Promenade to match those seeking jobs with businesses needing workers. This is also an agenda item for my weekly meeting with Chris Long, vice president for political affairs of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. I also plan to meet with Mary O’Neill of the Bluffton Old Town Merchant’s Society. A certain fraction of unemployment is about matching workers with jobs. A well-organized job fair is the right fix for that need. This effort must proceed with all deliberate speed.

Another theme that is manifesting in the constituent calls is a concern over banking regulations, particularly from folks who have been getting change notices from their credit card issuers. There have also been calls and emails about regulations governing protection of renters when the places in which they reside become involved in foreclosure proceedings.

Unfortunately, most of the regulations having to do with banking and lending are federal, with the states being somewhat limited because this is interstate commerce. However, I have been in contact with our Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee with questions about how we might be able to address some of the concerns being expressed. Those answers will be forthcoming.

As the election concludes, we will begin planning our delegation meeting. If there is something you need placed o­n the agenda, please call Ashley at the delegation office and we will get it taken care of.