Monday, November 29, 2010

Delegation to meet Tuesday on Hilton Head

Bluffton Today

It was a shortened week in the office, but amazingly enough we are still right at record level of constituent contacts. Kathy and I came in on Friday to try and catch up but if we don’t get back to you immediately, please cut us some holiday slack.

Also, I want to remind you of the Legislative Delegation meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the council chambers of Hilton Head Island Town Hall. We had a little mix up in last week’s column that directed you to the Chamber of Commerce Complex. Although the Chambers of Commerce of both Hilton Head Island and Beaufort will certainly be in attendance, the meeting will be at Town Hall. This is part of our policy of rotating the delegation meetings around the district so that attendees will not always be geographically inconvenienced. It should be a good meeting and I hope to see a number of you there.

We have had more than a few deep talks in the past week regarding the budget, especially after Dr. Gillespie’s sobering presentation to the Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the Budget and Control Board. It’s going to be another tough year, essentially as many of the downward trends in revenue and employment, while currently stabilizing, are still below what we require for either a balanced budget or full employment.

As far as revenue is concerned, we are seeing the slightest upturn in the numbers, although I would not call it a trend just yet. Unlike the federal budget, we don’t get to run a deficit and simply print more money. There is, however, a certain elasticity in our budget process that allows us to run a sort of de facto deficit by utilizing a number of trust funds and rainy day accounts to keep funding core functions of the state. Unfortunately, we have pretty much used up that elasticity and need to start making whole those trust funds and accounts. Consequently, even after we start to show real revenue growth, we will still likely be cutting areas of the budget.

The job situation is more complex. The first of this year we stopped losing jobs, but have not established much momentum in gaining new jobs. In June of 2007, we peaked at 1,970,000 jobs, and bottomed in January 2010 at around 1,783,000 jobs, a loss of around 187,000 jobs. That’s nearly 1 in 10 jobs lost in a state with higher-than-average unemployment in the best of times.

I guess this takes us back to my near obsession with jobs. You hear it from me over and over. Sound education — rational tax and regulatory policy — and transportation, utility and information infrastructure are all required to create and support good jobs, recession or no recession. That’s how I see our primary function in Columbia.

The holiday, by all accounts from around the community, was superb. Grown children and grandchildren came for family Thanksgiving. Turkeys with Bluffton oyster dressing were prepared and gratefully eaten, often to excess. Naps were taken and football was watched. These ceremonies were all undertaken with gratitude. My personal thanksgiving, however, is today, the Nov. 29. This is the day, 24 years ago; that my lovely Mary and I began our married life together. Inexplicably, each year is better than the last.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Area may get a fair share of road money

Bluffton Today

I spent a good deal of time in Columbia last week getting things situated for our “mini-session.” There were a few agenda items but mostly it was committee assignments and some housekeeping matters.

Your representative was returned to Ways and Means, which was no surprise. We were pleased that our new colleague, Andy Patrick, from Hilton Head Island, was able to skip ahead a few paces and be placed on the Education Committee, which is a boost to this area.

Andy was able to secure this key assignment because he is an impressive fellow and has been introduced to a number of members who look forward to working with him. Just as former Rep. Joanne Gilham was able to smooth my way into leadership, your representative and other delegation members have been diligent in seeing that Andy will hit the ground running.

Andy and I have shared a pretty fair amount of travel time recently, with a lot of opportunity to exchange ideas on any number of legislative matters. On education, we are in perfect agreement that public education is not only a crucial family matter, but also an extremely important feature of economic development. Just as we invest in ports and roads, we need to invest in improving our state’s educational outcomes at all levels. Since Andy has a house full of young children, I’m pretty sure he will view his committee responsibilities with a fatherly seriousness.

We heard a budget forecast from Dr. Gillespie of the Budget and Control Board, which was predictably grim. The recession still has large portions of the state in a firm grip and we should tailor our expectations accordingly. The one relatively bright spot in his presentation had to do with tourism, particularly along the coast. In fact, we are pretty much holding the rest of the state above water, so to speak. This has potentially profound implications for how we allocate our increasingly scarce resources.

Let me explain: Historically, our state has invested transportation dollars according to population, as opposed to usage. Consequently, the more populous parts of the state have newer and less crowded roads than we have in the more visitor-intensive areas.

That’s just the way it was. As tourism is increasing seen as our primary engine of solvency, it makes sense to invest in what is working. This is something the Coastal Caucus and your delegation have been working on for years with little to show. This may be about to change.

Finally we had an excellent report from the director of our Education Lottery, my friend Paula Harper Bethea. Not only is our lottery doing very well compared to other state lotteries, we are spending much less than our competitors on advertising and administration. While the parallels with other agencies are not perfect, there is merit in seeing how administration costs can be reduced while productivity is maximized.

If there are things that Paula is doing with the lottery that could provide models for other agencies, we certainly need to take a close look. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes it takes a series of austere budgets for us to see clearly what the true cost of government is. Don’t forget, we have a Beaufort County Legislative Delegation meeting Nov. 30 at the Chamber of Commerce complex on Hilton Head Island.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Special thanks to those who help make column successful

Bluffton Today

The number of constituent contacts seems to rise each week and this week was no exception. Much of the increase, in my view, is attributable to the fact that I am able to reach out to you on a weekly basis with this column. Every Monday, you hear from me, and the rest of the week, I hear from you. I try to explain the issues we are facing, and you let me know, usually in no uncertain terms, what needs to be done. For a lot of years, we’ve made a pretty good team.

The production of this column, usually around 600 words, is a serious and complex undertaking that involves several drafts and the good efforts of a lot of folks. Once a year, I try to produce a column that recognizes the work of those folks, and also tries to express my appreciation for their contributions. This is that column.

As always, my first and highest expression of gratitude is to my wife and life partner, Mary. Her support and encouragement is the foundation of any success, political or otherwise, that I might have achieved. I get a lot of credit that rightfully should go to her, but most of you already know that.

The calls and contacts generated by the column are usually fielded by my office manager, Kathy. She accurately and politely directs you to the appropriate government offices that will take care of your problem, unless we can handle it in house. She sees that documents left for me are placed in my hand, as well as makes sure that I don’t procrastinate in addressing any action they might require. She is hardworking and efficient, and somehow always manages to be pleasant about it.

I also want to thank my friends at the Legislative Audit and Legislative Research offices. They help make the information you read in the column as up-to-date and accurate as possible. They also research legislation in other states that may help me in crafting my bills or commenting on other bills.

The first draft of each column is dictated to Word Processing at the State House. Vivian and all her colleagues do a great job of transcribing and distributing my words down the line. One of those people down the line is my friend, Jacob Preston, whose grammatical polish keeps things between the rhetorical ditches. And my pal, Ken George, among other things, makes certain each column is properly archived on the website.

I am also thankful that Bluffton Today has created a stable of writers and columnists that approach life in our little corner of the Lowcountry from so many different points of view. They host a lively and entertaining conversation in print each week. Most of the political and cultural spectrum is represented, and disagreement, with a few exceptions, is handled without resort to boorishness.

Finally, I want to thank you the readers for your attention and fair treatment. When I make a mistake, I hear about it. When I get it right, I also hear from you. When I ask for your help, I can always count on hearing the wisdom of a good cross section of the community. You help me be a better, more effective representative. Thank you.

Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, represents District 118 in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He can be reached through his Web site at www.herbkersman.com or by telephone at 757-7900 or at (803) 734-3063 at his office at 308-B Blatt Building in Columbia. He is assigned to the Ways and Means and the Rules committees.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Governing decisions are not always easy

Bluffton Today

Like most of you, I am relieved that the elections are mostly complete. I am also gratified that the general outcome has increased the number of elected officials that agree in the main with my political worldview.

By all indications, we are looking to have government at all levels that is trending toward making itself smaller, more nimble, and, at least theoretically, more responsive to the will of the people. As an experienced elected official, I am aware that there is often some discrepancy between the language and activity of campaigning and the often grindingly difficult activity of governing.

Being a good politician as well as a decent person is to realize that, unlike the campaign, decisions in governing are rarely as simple and as well defined as we would like. Sometimes, there are no good choices. Is it better in a devastated economy to cut mental health services or education? Ideology is no guide, so you just do the best you can and hope you did the right thing. The clarity of this campaign season is about to become the irreducible complexity of legislating the greater good.

One of my ways of dealing with the complexity is to return to our foundational documents to help sort through these things. For getting to the point in the fewest words, there is no better document than the Declaration of Independence. There is language in the Declaration that talks about governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That consent was not given in the 18th century so that it might remain in perpetuity. On the contrary, consent must be renewed and refreshed frequently and in response to the challenges of the day.

Last week, the governed refreshed their consent, as well as appointed the agents of their government. I am humbled and honored to again be your representative in the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Besides a new governor and several new constitutional officers, the Beaufort County Delegation has a new member in Andy Patrick, representing District 123 on Hilton Head Island. He joins your representative, our Sen. Tom Davis, and Rep. Shannon Erickson in standing for the bulk of Beaufort County. Our delegation also includes Reps. Kenneth Hodges and Curtis Brantley, as well as Sen. Clementa Pinckney in representing a small but significant portion of Beaufort County.

By most metrics, this delegation is something of a dream team. We have the experience, the mental horsepower and the creativity to be a force in the General Assembly, especially as we combine with the Coastal Caucus. This is particularly important going into a session where our budgets are still challenged by recession and halting and uneven recovery. While there are pockets of job growth and business expansion, such as we have talked about in Bluffton, the region and the state as a whole are still languishing. The very uneven nature of the recovery will create immense difficulty in pulling together a coherent budget that will recognize the varying degrees of need.

In closing, I want to thank you for your continued support and confidence. Almost 450 of you either called or e-mailed last week. For this, I am grateful as well. You help me demonstrate why they call it the House of Representatives.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Town is still region’s economic bright spot.

Bluffton Today

Thanks for all the good calls last week regarding the “Going to the Dogs” oyster roast fundraiser. Keep it on your calendar. I am sure the Boeke’s and Brook’s Bed and Biscuit would appreciate all the help they can get. These are good folks that are doing good work for our animal companions and friends.

Speaking of good folks, there are a pair of wonderful schoolteachers who are opening a children’s bookstore in Bluffton. The store is called Booksalicious and it is unlike any business I have seen. It is located near Cork’s in the Promenade and will feature readings and story times and a host of events that will excite the young ones with the love of reading. Booksalicious should be opening as you read this and would be a great place to take your kids or grandchildren. It is also a testament to the strong local retail economy that an independent bookseller would choose this time and this place to open a store.

Last weekend, we had the 6th Annual Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival. It is put on by Bluffton Rotary and is always well run and a big hit with visitors and locals alike. All the reports I have heard were of great sales, not only for the exhibitors, but local merchants as well. It seems that Old Town Bluffton continues to be the economic bright spot of the region.

There is seemingly the perfect mixture of activity and laidbackness (maybe that’s a word), a solid arts community, great restaurants, and a presentable road infrastructure. There is even a rumor that appropriate signage is about to occur so that visitors can find their way around to all the areas surrounding Calhoun Street and the businesses located there.

Even as the recent election campaigns have raged on, I have been preparing for the next session. One of the things I am working on is my Red Tape Reduction Initiative. This is a project that I have been pushing for nearly 10 years. Each year, we get something through the House that somehow founders in the Senate. It’s frustrating, but much of what I hear from you in business is how you are being red taped to death by the various levels of government.

This year, with pro-business Senators Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) and Clementa Pinckney (D-Jasper County), I believe we will pass meaningful legislation that will offer some relief to businesses from the more egregious forms of red tape. Well, tomorrow is election day.

I know many of you have already voted and that’s great. However, recent elections have been marked by disappointing turnout, especially among young folks and those somewhat new to the area, excluding Sun City. Make sure you check the papers for where your precinct votes. I know there has been some confusion in the past on this, but it’s better now.

Seriously, I want to urge you to get out and exercise your right to vote. If you are not interested in voting, then don’t complain that government doesn’t pay attention to you. In truth, it is you who is not paying attention to government, and that rarely leads to good outcomes. What usually leads to good outcomes is an educated, informed, and participatory electorate. Voting is the most basic and important form of participation. See you at the polls.