Monday, March 2, 2009

Don't look to Columbia to 'save the May'

Bluffton Today

I was gratified to hear that so many concerned and motivated Bluffton area residents made the bus trip to Beaufort last week. It was necessary and proper that Beaufort County Council got to hear directly from you and your neighbors about the problem with the fecal coliform levels in the May River, and how potential shellfish closures in the headwaters of the river are unacceptable.

The next night at Bluffton Town Council, the turnout was equally vocal and insistent. The health of the river is not simply another task among the many with which the town is charged. It is the highest priority by a wide margin.

It is my understanding that both town and county councils got a clear, unambiguous message from the folks: Clean up the May River!

While this civic action was under way, I was in Columbia carrying a different version of the same message to DHEC, DNR, and other parties with responsibilities in this area.

As a matter of fact, we have scheduled Town of Bluffton engineer Jeff McNesby, Assistant Manager Tim Bennett, and several other town employees to appear in Columbia to help explain the situation to my legislative colleagues, as part of my efforts to help assure potential financial support for the mission.

This is a textbook example of how our system is supposed to work. The citizenry makes their will known to the political leaders, who in turn focus the attention of staff on the matter in question.

This situation is a little more complicated in that locally, the river and its health are the responsibility of both the Town of Bluffton and the county, with additional oversight by the state. It is imperative that all jurisdictions cooperate in this cleanup effort and bring it to an efficient and satisfactory conclusion.

I want to commend both Chairman Newton and Mayor Sulka for their willingness to accept this complex, difficult, and potentially costly challenge. I, of course, will try to bring the state along in whatever capacity is appropriate.

Realistically, however, this is likely to be largely a demonstration of local creativity and ingenuity solving a local problem.

Last week, I shared my thoughts on how we will probably end up muddling through the state budgetary crisis. It looks more and more like a hybrid of state funding cuts, supplements that will include a cigarette tax, as well as some decreased aid to subdivisions, which are cuts to what we send to counties and municipalities.

Let me be clear: I don’t think tax increases will pull us out of this recession. However, the cigarette tax has been in the works for a long time and is probably the most palatable option on the revenue side. As I said last week, the cigarette tax dollars will temporarily backfill the budget before being reallocated to more appropriate purposes, namely health care, Medicaid, and insurance, in a maximum of two years.

You will see, very shortly, a proposal to Ways and Means from the Beaufort County Delegation encapsulating the above. As primary author of the proposal, I am still working the numbers and gauging the distribution of impacts to the state, to Beaufort County, and District 118. There will be fight, but we currently occupy the high ground. I will keep you apprised.