Monday, May 25, 2009

Remember those who gave all today

Bluffton Today

I would urge all of you to go to the Sun City Veterans Association’s Memorial Day celebration today; there is not a finer or more patriotic one anywhere over this fine land. As for me, I’ll be visiting my dad, an Airborne Korean Conflict veteran who well may be fighting his last battle.
To him, and to you, I honor and thank you.

With Memorial Day upon us, and especially as we are at war, I have been thinking about some of the issues larger than the budget. The South contributes to the ranks of the armed forces in numbers proportionally higher than our population would suggest.

South Carolina is very well represented, even by the Southern standard. And Beaufort County, with its concentration of active-duty military personnel and military retirees, is familiar with the sacrifices entailed in the defense of the republic.

We have Memorial Day to remind ourselves that what we so often take for granted, the gifts that our splendid nation has so amply provided, were not gifts in the sense that they were without cost. My generation has fathers and grandfathers who did not return from World War II or the Korean Conflict. We have brothers lost in the jungles of Vietnam and now we have sons and daughters leaving their lives in the harshness of Afghanistan and Iraq.

From Cowpens to Kirkuk, our freedom has been anything but free. From Camden to Quang Tri to Sadr City, brave young patriots gave their lives so that we might carry forward this great act of faith we call America.

I’m not a constitutional scholar and I don’t often try to sort out the size of the bricks in the wall between church and state. I do know the argument is suspended when you pass through the gates of the Beaufort National Cemetery. It has no currency when you view the thousands of white crosses and Stars of David at Arlington National Cemetery.

Each of our national heroes was carried to his or her rest by the God of their individual understanding. The grief of those left behind was lightened by the rituals and ceremonies of the many faiths we embrace.

I hope you have a good holiday. Get outside and enjoy our wonderful, clean river and lush, green landscape. As you do, please give some thought and perhaps a prayer of gratitude for those who helped secure the blessings we enjoy.

Next week, I will get back to the budget and let you know what we are doing with your money. I’m also going to start giving a little more mention to the many generous and interesting contributors to the vitality of our community.

Please indulge my Memorial Day departure from business as usual. I think sometimes we need to slow down and refocus on the big ideas. It may be another reason we call it the House of Representatives. State Rep. Bill Herbkersman represents Bluffton’s District 118 in Columbia.
He can be reached through his Web site at www.herbkersman.com or by telephone at 757-7900 or (803) 734-3063.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Before things can get better, they have to stop getting worse

Bluffton Today

First and foremost, a correction or perhaps an amplification of a point I made in last week’s column. While my good friends at Palmetto Electric Co-op do not currently allow net metering, they are very much concerned for your ability to control your costs, as well as do the right thing for the planet.

Recently, I had a conversation with my pal, Pat Simoneaux,about some of the great programs pioneered by the Co-op. Pat is the owner of Simoneaux Electric in Bluffton and has many years of experience helping his customers make the most of Palmetto Electric Co-op’s innovative and forward-looking conservation incentives. So, while net metering is an important feature of the new electrical landscape, it is far from the only feature. I would never imply that the Co-op was not doing its part.

Continuing in the environmental area, I want to talk about a bill that was put in and worked its way through the House in three days—very short order. It was done “without reference” that is, without having to go through the committee system, but rather it was brought up as a common-sense bill. Essentially, what the bill does is give Beaufort County legal standing with adjoining counties in areas that affect our citizenry on two fronts: traffic and stormwater.

In order for us to get this bill ready for presentation and to make sure it did not have unintended consequences, I had very extensive and detailed conversations with Sheriff P.J. Tanner, Beaufort County Administrator Gary Kubic, County Council Chairman Weston Newton, as well as other members of the delegation.

We are all firm believers in the wisdom of regional planning. However, if regional planning fails to meaningfully materialize, or if there are disputes that involve our county’s core interests, traffic or stormwater matters, and if the courts are drawn into the dispute, as a county, we have legal standing.

It is my hope that this bill, shepherded by Senator Tom Davis of Beaufort, will make it through the Senate next week.

In simplest terms, this bill is a recognition of the seriousness of some of the challenges we face in our ability to maintain our highly valued quality of life in Beaufort County, not only in keeping our roads safe, but especially in our efforts to maintain the integrity and productivity of our watersheds. Each day, there seems to be another revelation regarding the deterioration of the quality of our waterways. Unfortunately, before things can get better, they have to stop getting worse. That is the intent of this bill.

In all likelihood, this measure will not enjoy universal popularity, particularly among our neighboring counties and municipalities. In my view, if the short-term benefits to one jurisdiction result in long-term negative consequences to a neighboring jurisdiction, simple fairness requires there be some remedy.

On a more pleasant note, the former president of my Bluffton Rotary, Chris Corkern, was up for visit last week. It was my pleasure to introduce him to many of my legislative colleagues. I always enjoy showing off our spirited young entrepreneurs from the Lowcountry.

Next week, we’ll begin our end-of-session analysis and commentary.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We're on the hunt for the 'ExonMobil of solar'

Bluffton Today

Kudos to Bluffton Rotary for the tremendous job on the Bluffton Village Festival. Miss Babbie must be proud of what has become of her creation. More reports continue to come in but from what I’ve heard, business was good and a great time was had by all.

I was out of town most of last week attending a business development conference in Florida. The conference was concerned with attracting businesses from outside the country to locate or expand to this part of the country. It was impressive to see what is out there and how much of it is a perfect fit for the Lowcountry of South Carolina, especially Beaufort and Jasper counties.

My criteria in researching these prospects have to do with whether they are on the leading edge of information, energy or transportation technologies. We need environmentally clean industries that will create not only jobs for today, but help to invent the jobs of tomorrow.

One of the businesses I was particularly interested in at the conference was a manufacturer of different solar panels and controllers for managing solar generated electricity. Not only do they currently have efficient production, they also have an incredibly robust research and development effort under way. These folks seem to have a clear vision of the post-oil economy and want to be the ExxonMobil of solar.

There are many reasons why companies with great business models and bright futures need to look closely at our area. We have low taxes, a good, available work force with a strong work ethic, as well as a location near a major transportation hub. I was impressed with them and they are interested in visiting and taking a closer look at what we have to offer.

Fortunately, not all the business creativity is going on overseas, there is much happening in our local community that is innovative, forward-looking, and run by hard headed business guys that know how to build things and turn a profit.

HybridHouse is a Bluffton company owned by Blufftonians Andy Fishkind and Roger Gump. They consult and subcontract on renovations or new commercial or residential construction to plan and produce a building that will be as close as you want to energy self-sufficiency. Using high efficiency solar panels and state of the art HVAC, insulation, and appliances, Andy and Roger put your building into the energy production business. This saves their clients a ton of money and Santee-Cooper burns less tons coal.

Incidentally, HybridHouse was the beneficiary of strategic pressure from the Beaufort County legislative delegation several sessions back to allow net metering in South Carolina. This allows you to sell back your excess power to the utility company, making solar panel installation less costly and more attractive to home and business owners, especially with the increasing federal tax benefit. Currently, SCE and G has net metering, the co-ops do not, but it’s only a matter of time before they come around.

When you hear me talk about creating a favorable business environment, this is what I’m talking about. Ideally, government helps to unlock the creativity and productivity within the private sector, not stifle it with unnecessary regulation and paperwork.

Next week, we are back in session with the post-crossover horse-trading on which bills will advance, which will go away, and which will re-emerge next time.