Monday, February 16, 2009

Legislators hope to simply 'hold the line'

Bluffton Today

This recession looks like it may be with us for a while. As a consequence, much of our work in the General Assembly is to simply hold the line and not allow those most deeply affected by the economy to fall too far. This includes our most vulnerable citizens, who by virtue of age or infirmity, cannot get by without meaningful assistance.

We also are trying to hold the line on segments of the economy, such as real
estate, that are particularly hard hit by the downturn. To that end, we have been working on repealing the point-of-sale reassessment feature that was part of an earlier attempt at tax overhaul which has had unintended consequences as the industry has gone into hibernation.

While it looks like we are going to get the repeal of point-of-sale, it is useful to remember that this was intended as an offset for the 15% cap on increases in assessments in the usual 5-year reassessment period. What this points to, in my view, is the absolute necessity of addressing the taxation issue comprehensively, rather than piecemeal, as we have in the past. For now, we are in somewhat of an economic triage situation that does not lend itself to big structural changes, no matter how badly needed.

We managed to get through the Payday Lending Bill, which put a few limits on these very high interest, short-term loans. While virtually no one is happy with the bill, it is an improvement on the status quo, and short of outlawing the industry; we have done what we can, for now.

I am introducing a measure, the Consumer Protection Bill of 2009 that incorporates elements that my friends from AARP have been requesting for some time. I remember discussing questionable banking fees and related matters eighteen months ago with my friend Eileen Brenner from Sun City, and more recently with Elaine Lust, of the Silver Haired Legislature.

Some bank policies are confusing and some are very close to intentionally confusing with regard to late fees and related issues. There is also a problem with the approval times on short sales that needs to be addressed. Both banks and consumers will benefit from having more clarity in the process. With the current economic uncertainty, these matters take on a great urgency for families in difficulty.

Also related to the economic uncertainty, this time on the educational front, is the Emergency Education Funding Act of 2009. This is a bill I am currently working on that will mandate that scarce education funding will have to be spent from the classroom up, rather than from administration down.

What this means is the needs of the classroom teacher will be met first, and then, and only then, will dollars flow to administrators. I am constantly frustrated that the classroom teacher, even in good times, is at the bottom of the food chain, while shouldering the primary responsibility for our children’s educational success. As funding diminishes, the situation worsens. This bill is a common sense response to apparently skewed priorities.

Ending on a lighter note, the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2009 was up for a visit. Among the aspiring leaders was my good friend and neighbor, Mary Gwinn Vaux. We had a nice chat about Bluffton that made my day.