Monday, April 5, 2010

Sembler bill continues with lawmaking process

Bluffton Today

The Sembler deal continues to meander through the legislative process. It is considerably different than when it emerged from the House. This is the way these things happen and the current iteration is not a surprise to this representative.

While it may appear to the casual observer of the Beaufort County delegation that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, in truth, that appearance is misleading.

The present form of the Sembler deal has Jasper County being allowed to tax itself to help the developer offset infrastructure costs. To most folks, this is a fair compromise, which has the added advantage of allowing the local municipality a stake in the outcome of the project. Instead of the state putting up the investment while the city of Hardeeville looks to be the primary beneficiary, the town now has some “skin” in the game.

While there is likely to be additional change to the final agreement, there are a few constants that will remain as far as I am concerned. One is the environmental component of the project. You may remember some time ago I asked to see the stormwater management plan being put together by the developer. Sembler was very forthcoming with the initial plan and I was able to run it by several experts, who, like me, were pleasantly surprised by the plan.

I was less impressed with our ability to compel the developer to execute the plan and follow through on the prescribed maintenance in the out years of the project. I knew, however, that the Senate would make changes to the overall deal and we would get another cut at this before the dirt started moving.

The second part of the matter on which I am focused is jobs — local jobs. If this project ever gets to the execution stage, I want to see local bulldozers and dump trucks out there doing the site prep. I want to see local carpenters and roofers and sheetrockers working in and on the buildings. This is before any of the local sales staff is hired or trained. By local, I mean businesses and residents from Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties.

As chairman of the Economic Development Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, any deal that emerges from the Senate will come before my panel for approval. Before any approval is given, there will be ironclad stipulations covering both environmental and workforce aspects of the project that will define what needs to happen until the expiration of the incentives.

In all probability, there will be an appointed board, representing all parties to the agreement, which will certify the stipulations are met before each incentive payment is made.

I want to say a few words on the Higher Education, Technology and Cultural Subcommittee portion of the budget. The total general fund base reduction to these folks is almost $86 million. The Commission on Higher Education was cut $1.6 million. Their task is to investigate the manner in which institutions are using LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarships and enhancements, which are stipends for selected science and math majors. The state library received a $1.5 million base reduction.

All told, reductions to higher education, technical education and related areas was around 21 percent. For good or ill, these cuts were wholly offset by federal funds, which are likely nonrecurring. We have made it clear to all institutions that these are non-recurring dollars and to plan accordingly.

Next week, more budget details. Enjoy this gorgeous Lowcountry spring.