Monday, March 16, 2009

Beaufort County Delegation played good defense at budget time

Bluffton Today

The budget fight on the House side is effectively over. We passed the ugly beast, sent it over to the Senate side, and now are going to take a week off to try and regain out composure.

I have given you a bit of a play by play in the last few weeks with regard to how we managed to protect our core functions while still dealing with the fact that the state is not collecting nearly as much revenue as we have in the last few years. I have also shared my discomfort with having to fall back on budgetary gimmicks and stopgaps to create a spending plan that doesn’t cripple our chances for recovery.

We have made good use of the stimulus dollars. Unlike many who are reluctant to take the Federal money, my problem is that it is simply bad policy to use non-recurring money to pay for recurring expenses. We are going to have to repay the Federal stimulus funds just like everyone else. I certainly don’t want to repay dollars that brought us no benefit. That sort of ideological rigidity plays well when we are flush, but rings a little hollow when we are looking at releasing felons because we can’t afford to keep the prisons open.

If there is one thing that comes out of this current economic mess, it must be a greater seriousness among my colleagues with regard to reforming our antiquated system of taxation.

In large measure, your Beaufort County Delegation did the heavy lifting that resulted in a budget that was not nearly as locally severe as it could have been. We took a hit in the aid to subdivisions, but not anything like the early proposals. My conversations with Chairman Newton helped me to convey the seriousness of the county’s financials to my colleagues on Ways and Means. The result was a more moderate reduction than anticipated.

We were also able to adequately fund our local tourism efforts. Sometimes, it is a hard sell to convince our inland neighbors that visitors and tourism are the reason that Beaufort County and a few others are perennial donor counties. We were greatly aided in holding the line on tourism marketing appropriations by several visits from key business leaders, as well as good work by the Chambers of Commerce.

Speaking of key business leaders, I had a great dinner meeting with the Hilton Head Island and the Beaufort contingents of the Home Builders of South Carolina last week. We had a good strategy session about what the legislature can do to help pull the local economy out of the ditch. I was pleased to get to have a chat with a Bluffton entrepreneur, John Guffey Jr, who is president of Energy One, a spray foam insulation company on Red Cedar Street. Energy conservation has been one of my long time interests and John knows his stuff about how foam insulation fits into the big picture of the new green economy.

We had over 400 constituent contacts in the last two weeks. As I mentioned, the House is off this week, so I will be around the office attending to local business. It might be a good time for you to come by and let me know what’s on your mind. Find out why it’s called the House of Representatives