Wednesday, December 28, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Mary and I hope that everyone had as nice a Christmas as our family. Despite our recent loss, we pulled together and made what could have been a less than joyful affair into one of our best ever. The miracle of Christmas has always been about gratitude.

A brief and unscientific survey of merchants around Bluffton and Hilton Head would lead me to believe that most businesses in our area are experiencing their share of thankfulness. It seems that all the “shop local” sentiment so effectively promoted by the chambers of commerce did exactly what was intended. Most of the assessments I’m hearing are somewhere between “above average” to “over the moon.” Our merchants in the Promenade and around Old Town Bluffton report that between Thanksgiving and Christmas day, sales were very strong and continue briskly so far this week before the New Year celebration.

This is right in line with what we heard recently during the economic forecast session at the USC Darla Moore School of Business. According to our very own economist, USC’s Doug Woodward: “the state’s economy is looking good…South Carolina is in relatively good shape and there is growth in the US economy where we are in a position to do fairly well.” That may not sound like high praise, but for those of us who know Doug Woodward, it almost sounds as though our own dismal scientist is succumbing to a fit of “irrational exuberance.”

There are obviously a few spots in the economy still feeling sluggish after the Great Recession, such as home sales and new construction. However, the leading indicators for these areas are looking up and we have every reason to be optimistic that 2012 is going to be a turnaround year for real estate.

The surprise, of course, is that the manufacturing sector is leading the recovery with convincing gains across the board. Bridgestone, Continental Tire, Boeing and a host of smaller manufacturing players are seeing a serious recovery. While manufacturing only accounts for around 10 percent of our jobs, my friend Bobby Hitt, SC Secretary of Commerce, told me that we have a realistic shot at increasing that to 15 percent in the very near future. In fact, South Carolina is leading the region in manufacturing growth.

According to the latest projections from the Federal Reserve, South Carolina is one of two states likely to show growth in the next six months in excess of 4.5 percent. Combine that with the national business magazine naming us as the fourth best state in the nation in which to do business and you begin to see what all the buzz is about.

I mentioned a few columns ago that we had regained our AAA credit rating. While that is good news, what it means in practical, immediate terms is we can refinance a series of bonds saving the taxpayers a little over $24 million in borrowing costs. As a member of Ways and Means, such good news and such great economic projections help to salve the lingering sting many of us felt over the austerity budgets we have crafted these last several years. Sometimes it’s hard being the budgetary grownup saying we can’t afford this program or that new highway.

For me, one of the leading local economic indicators has turned out to be the live/work units we are putting together in Old Town Bluffton. The buzz has gone from several friends and interested locals, to calls from folks in the Upstate, and now there are several parties from Atlanta and Nashville requesting information and wanting to talk about taking the concept beyond Bluffton. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, please celebrate responsibly. Sheriff Tanner and Chief McAllister will have every available unit on the road this holiday. No excuses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

With only a few days left before the Christmas holiday, I probably don’t need to remind you that there are a good many of our neighbors struggling to secure just the basics of living right now. Our friends at Bluffton Self-Help, Volunteers in Medicine, and Deep Well, to name just a few, are doing what they can. They could all use your help, especially right now.

What if I told you that there is a potentially productive strategic relationship for job creation (my favorite topic) and the non-profit sector? What might make it even more interesting is if you knew that very similar legislative initiatives were recently introduced into the state houses of both Massachusetts and South Carolina. What could the do-gooder liberals in Massachusetts and the rock-ribbed conservatives of South Carolina possibly have in common? And why are they both very excited about this forward-thinking job creation strategy?

The idea is called CHIRA, and the idea could potentially unlock trillions of currently idle dollars, and put them into the non-profit sector, building hospitals, schools, cultural institutions, and performing the good works that Americans have traditionally supported. Building equals jobs and jobs support families. The unlocked dollars would not only be available immediately for local projects, they would be directed by individuals in local situations with almost zero government input. Sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it?

CHIRA is an acronym for Charitable Investment Recovery Act. It is a process whereby holders of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) could loan a portion of their accounts to their favorite charity or non-profit. Concurrently, the 501(c)
(3) would purchase insurance to guarantee repayment, plus interest, of all dollars to the donor’s IRA. These dollars move immediately from Wall Street to Main Street. Instead of funding the Wall Street Casino, we could fund improvements right in our communities, guided by our local needs by local folks.

Right now, you can leave your IRA to a charity, but you won’t personally see any of the benefit because your estate will make the award. There are ways to donate assets before death, but there is a daunting level of complexity. CHIRA provides an alternative to this complexity while also making your wishes translate to good works while you are around to enjoy the moment. For details, go to www.chirausa.com and take a look for yourself.

Like all seemingly good ideas, this one needs the scrutiny provided by the committee system in the General Assembly. There may be some downside that is not immediately apparent. That is why we hold hearings and receive testimony from folks whose special knowledge in these matters is heard. Having said that, I have spoken to a number of legislative colleagues whose opinions I respect, and the overwhelming consensus right now is very positive for this initiative. As we look more closely at the particulars in committee, I will of course keep you informed.

Finally, I want to leave you with two suggestions: First, do your shopping locally with your friends and neighbors. Circulate your dollars around the community and you will be surprised at how many of them return home. Secondly, please make sure you attend all your holiday parties with a designated driver. One or two glasses of eggnog may impair your senses just enough for this Christmas to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Give thanks for all our blessings and have a merry Christmas, confident that the coming year will bring us closer to peace and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

As always, I appreciate all the comments, calls and emails on the previous columns we have produced. It is almost exactly a month until we reconvene the General Assembly. As we are refining our legislative agenda, your input is absolutely invaluable. Historically, the week after Thanksgiving is when your contribution to the agenda starts to get serious. While my conversations with you are the primary driver of the agenda, this year I am hearing much more from individuals and businesses from around the state and from other parts of the country. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but I represent you, and your voices are by far the most important to me.

We are still getting many responses from the Medicare/Medicaid columns of last month. In that vein, if you have a complex or multi-part Medicaid question, or a question about matters related to Health and Human Services (HHS), please, if possible, send it as an email or written letter. That way, I can research the matter and get back to you with the correct information, or I may just put you in touch with the person you need to talk with from the state. As much as I enjoy chatting, sometimes the complexity of these issues requires a more formal way of communicating. When we get you squared away, then you may want to come into the office and we’ll have that chat over a cup of coffee.

Last week, I rode up to Columbia for a meeting with the State Infrastructure Bank. It was my pleasure to be joined in the meeting by my good friend Weston Newton, Chairman of Beaufort County Council, along with his County Administrator Gary Kubic.

Hardeeville Mayor Bostick, and several key officials from Jasper County also joined us. This is an example of the regional cooperation that we have been talking about for a generation, which is now starting to happen routinely. It will also become more common and more important after the House districts are realigned in 2012, essentially creating a Beaufort/Jasper block in the legislature.

The subject of our meeting with the Infrastructure Bank had to do primarily with the status of the widening and enhancement of Highway 170, along with some of the feeder roads that will make our 170 efforts more effective. The outcome of the meeting was very positive and reflected the efforts of your representative over the last decade in creating the groundwork and rationale for the repatriation of your tax dollars back to the Lowcountry to address our local needs. It also reflects the success of Chairman Newton’s campaign to temporarily add a penny to our local sales tax to support crucial transportation projects. I will have more on this as it goes from agreements in principle to line items in the budget. Suffice to say we are no longer on the dark side of the moon, politically speaking.

There is good economic news from the big brains up at the Darla Moore School of Business at University of South Carolina. Over the last 18 months, our state has made big progress in the manufacturing segment of our economy. With Boeing, Bridgestone, Continental Tire, Amazon and a host of middle and smaller companies poised for expansion, they are conservatively projecting a 15% increase in manufacturing activity.

Also, a combination of our budgetary restraint and increased tax receipts has resulted in the restoration of our triple A credit rating, which will save us millions in borrowing costs over the next year.

Finally, my idea for live/work units in Old Town Bluffton sparked a ton of interest. That interest is somewhat driving the configuration of the project. If you want to become a part of the Bluffton economic phenomenon, call me at 757-5464.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated our entry into the Second World War. For those who were there, or whose loved ones were there, it was the equivalent of being at ground zero New York City for the calamitous events of 9/11/01. While that war is long over and the Japanese are now our fast friends and allies, the lessons of Pearl Harbor are not to be forgotten. Constant vigilance is truly the price of liberty.

On a happier note, many congratulations to our Bluffton Bobcats football team. Going to the state championship game is something that everyone in Bluffton can be proud of. The entire season was an example of how sport is meant to be. The young men who played the games, the classy coaching staff, and the enthusiastic but well-behaved fans all deserve credit for a stellar season. In the end, we fell just short of perfection, but in all the ways that truly matter, our community is uplifted by the example set during this outstanding season. Regardless of the final score, the Bluffton Bobcats, Bluffton High, and the Bluffton community are all winners.

Another great example of the entire community pulling together for the common benefit is the fantastic 2011 Bluffton Christmas Parade. With Grand Marshal (and former mayor) Hank Johnston leading the way, the parade stepped off right on time. To the delight of the estimated crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 attendees, the two hour long parade snaked through the heart of downtown Bluffton. The dignitaries were dignified, the Marine Band was excruciatingly precise, the Shriners were rowdy and loud, and all the singing and marching children were cute beyond the dreams of their proud parents.

As one of the “dignitaries” situated in the front of the parade, I was able to make it from the disbanding site at Frazier Park back to the Promenade for the last hour and a half of this splendid event. Even for those of us a little too old for Santa Claus, there was definitely Christmas magic in the air surrounding our amazing community parade.

There was organizational magic, thanks to Sandra, Julie, Tammy and all the tireless workers at Town of Bluffton. After all the years Town Clerk Sandra Lundsford has run these parades, she can do them in her sleep.

Special thanks go to Chief Dave McAllister and his crew for the excellent manner in which the traffic was handled. The notices of road closures and car removals along the parade route were done with timeliness and tact. All the policemen not actually in the parade were in place to make sure the excitement didn’t get out of hand. They were invisible but effective. As always, their performance reflected the highest levels of professionalism.

People really understand there is something special about Bluffton. Whenever I give a speech, many of the follow-up questions have to do with how can folks become a part of the community, especially the business community. They want to know what’s the possibility of doing a live/work situation in Old Town. Right now, the Promenade is sold out-- with a waiting list. However, I have an idea for a new project that just might answer the need for affordable live/work possibilities right at the center of Old Town Bluffton. Give me a call at 757-5464. We’ll sit down with a cup of coffee and talk it over. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Finally, in this season of holiday festivities, please use common sense and appoint a designated driver. Losing a loved one is always tragic, but even more painfully so during the holidays.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

The response to last week’s column was simply overwhelming, particularly with regard to the passing of my brother, Tom. We are immensely grateful for all the kind words and stories about Tom and how he conducted himself in his civic life and in his business. Although our holiday was a little subdued, we are resolved to carry on in the spirit of thanksgiving, enjoying friends and family and all the pleasures, great and small, of living in this not-so-little-town. Thank you.

The official kick-off to the Christmas season is, of course, the amazing and spectacular Bluffton Christmas Parade. It is always held the first Saturday of December. This year, that is the third of December.

When Mary and I first attended the parade many years ago, we were so charmed, it kind of sealed the wisdom of our moving to Bluffton. These were obviously our kind of folks. At that time, Miss Babbie was the parade organizer, and as with most of her events, it was so well put together it seemed as if an interesting group of people just happened to show up at town hall at the same time and follow one another down Calhoun St. and around the corner down to Scott’s Grocery.

The Bluffton Christmas Parade is a bit more formalized now, an understandable and necessary consequence of just crazy popularity. Most years there are at least ten thousand spectators lining the route, oftentimes ten deep, not counting the little ones scurrying about to retrieve the tons of candy launched from the passing floats and vehicles.

The parade will leave Bluffton Town Hall around 11a.m. and follow Bridge St., turning right onto Calhoun St., taking May River Road to Pin Oak St. and finishing at Oscar Frazier Park. Folks will start lining the route early, so plan accordingly.

The Friday evening before the parade is also a special night with the lighting of the Town Hall Christmas Tree at 5 p.m., followed at 8 p.m. by the lighting of the Promenade Christmas Tree. In between, the Bluffton Old Town Merchant’s Society will again be having the “Light Up the Night” celebration. Businesses and art galleries will stay open late for an interesting shopping experience lit by the glow of some 400 luminaries. The “Holiday Trolley” will also be on hand to ferry shoppers and partiers around the Old Town area from 5 to 8. There will also be four or five bands stationed throughout the neighborhood to liven up the evening.

For the last few years, “Light Up the Night” has been an extremely successful and enjoyable event. After the galleries and shops close, a lot of folks like to patronize the restaurants and low-key bars situated in the historic district and Promenade. As always, be sure to have reservations for dinner and a designated driver for the bar scene. (Sorry, I can’t help myself—I’m a dad).

Every year, the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton and Beaufort Regional Chambers of Commerce do a great job of reminding us to “Shop Local.” Great events like “Light Up the Night” certainly make it easy and fun to patronize the local shops and galleries, especially in Old Town. It just makes sense to support the merchants that make the area so vibrant and inviting. But don’t forget that Shop Local is also about your insurance agent, and HVAC installer, and all the service people you count on, from doctors to landscapers. These are your neighbors and friends, as well as the folks whose success creates the jobs we need to grow our local economy. Spread the love—Shop Local.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all of you for the emails, questions, and positive suggestions concerning the last two columns devoted to Medicaid/Medicare issues. We always appreciate it when we get calls from people saying they now have a better understanding of issues we try to help with, both in the column and from the office. We do our very best for each constituent, but there is something humbling and gratifying when we get a modicum of acknowledgment for our efforts. None of us are immune to the powerful charm of the simple “thank you.”

I also want to give thanks on behalf of my family to all the good folks who stopped by the office, called, or emailed us at the passing of my brother, Tom. The long contest with his ultimately terminal adversary showed us a man of persistent optimism, immune to despair, who endured his trial with good grace and humor even as the inevitable approached.

Tom was trained as an accountant, with interests around Beaufort County as well as in the mountains of North Carolina. While he was frequently about his businesses both here and away, we shared an office in Bluffton for almost eighteen years. More times than I can count, as Cathy and I would struggle to keep up with the issues and demands of my legislative office, Tom would pitch in. He became so familiar with the workings of state government and with the people who run the offices at the various agencies; he became an integral part of the team. He was so personable that many of those agency heads became his personal friends, eager to help with our requests. Everyone liked Tom, but those who knew him best, liked him the most. He will be missed.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. If the truth be told, most of us in District 118 have so much to be thankful for, a proper tally of gratitude would fill a dozen issues of Bluffton Today. Our blessings and abundance also require that we share with those who might be momentarily excluded from prosperity, or facing health challenges, or simply don’t have the good choices most of us enjoy. Local civic and church groups offer a huge array of opportunities for service. The local Rotary is ringing the bells for the Salvation Army. Bluffton Self Help and the new Volunteers in Medicine both need helpers, both as workers and as check-writers. Service is the active form of gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude, there were boatloads of grateful folks last Sunday out on the high bluff over the Colleton River at the Waddell Mariculture Center for the 4th Annual Taste Of Waddell celebration. Sponsored by the Friends of Waddell and the HHI Sportfishing Club, the event was a benefit for the cobia, red drum and sea trout enhancement program, as well as the Port Royal Sound red drum study and other essential projects carried on by Al Stokes and his crew at the mariculture center.

Participants not only had a gorgeous Lowcountry afternoon to enjoy, they also got to taste some of chef Mike Sigler’s specialty shrimp dishes, enjoy Bluffton bluegrass with Lowcountry Boil, and compete for some pretty impressive auction items donated by local charter captains and merchants.

In a later column, I will detail how Waddell went from nearly being defunded every budget cycle for a decade to being the centerpiece of the newly expanded water quality effort being spearheaded by the Friends of the Rivers’ successor organization, Port Royal Sound Foundation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From The House

Bluffton Today

We certainly appreciate all the calls and emails this last week, particularly on the Medicaid/Medicare issue. The number of constituent contacts was around 385, which is very close to record territory and uncharacteristically high for the off season. The cost of medical care is something nearly everyone is focused on, especially in light of the expected changes relating to the federal law known as the Affordable Care Act, which will start to kick in with a vengeance in 2014.

Just a reminder: If you have questions or need help with Medicaid related matters, we are the folks you want to call. If we can’t help you, we can send you to the right person or office. If your questions are concerning Medicare, please call Rep. Joe Wilson’s office.

Last week, we drew a clear distinction between Medicaid and Medicare, as well as who is covered by each program, and some commentary on why this is an important distinction. I also gave a small preview of some major changes in store for the state administered program, Medicaid. Nearly all of those changes are mandated by the aforementioned Affordable Care Act, which, in its current form, will become a factor in our state budget process beginning in 2014, and really slamming us in 2017.

One of the well-meaning, but stunningly misguided, intentions behind the Affordable Care Act is to reduce or eliminate the uninsured from our medical care delivery system. One of the ways this will theoretically be accomplished is by dramatically expanding the Medicaid program. While Medicaid is currently the state administered, state/federal jointly funded healthcare program for our very poor, elderly, and disabled, the new mandate enlarges the program to cover essentially all uninsured persons or families making less than 133 percent of the federally defined poverty standard. Although the numbers don’t always match up, this means that a family of four making less than $30,800 in 2011 would now be eligible for Medicaid. There are quite a number of folks between the ages of 26 and 65 that fall into this category.

From inception in 2014 going forward for three years, the federal government will pay for the newly eligible Medicaid enrollees. After three years, they become the responsibility of the states. Most states, and our state in particular, currently are struggling to keep up with their Medicaid obligations. By 2017, this newly created unfunded mandate will absorb an unmanageable portion of our state budget. This assumes, of course, that the feds don’t modify the system in light of the unsustainable financials, as they did with the Long Term Care portion of their “reform.”

As a consequence, we are looking at a level of imposed uncertainty on our state budget that has this legislator losing sleep. As a member of Ways and Means, I will be responsible for deciding what we will have to cut in order to comply with this federal mandate. In my view, there are not too many good options at this time. This is time when I have to ask for your help, to tap the wisdom and experience of the voters of District 118.

If, in your experience, there is a more effective way to organize our health care system, now is the time to share it. There is consensus only in the fact that our present system is headed for a point where healthcare costs and GDP become the same number. The system represented by the Affordable Care Act essentially rearranges the various payers, but does little, again in my view, to attack the core of the issue, which is how to have acceptable healthcare at an acceptable cost.

Let me hear from you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

From The House

Bluffton Today

After my recent comments regarding volunteering for the many boards and commissions that make every level of government run more effectively, we had a few folks call and indicate a willingness to serve. One of the first was my friend Chuck Stewart of Rebel Dog Cycles in Bluffton. After reviewing Chuck’s very impressive resume of civic volunteerism, I believe that with a few more good citizens like the CEO of Rebel Dog Cycles on our myriad boards and commissions, we would see a marked improvement in their overall performance. Thanks, Chuck.

I guess the thing is this: we all have the right to complain and I welcome your input whether it’s positive or negative. However, the corollary of complaint is service. If you can contribute a little time and effort, your suggestions for improvement usually carry more weight. Those suggestions are usually more informed as well. Together, we are a lot smarter than any one of us individually.

Several of the many calls we received this week were concerning the difference in Medicare and Medicaid, and why is Medicaid such a big issue now.

Simply put, Medicare is federal and Medicaid is state. Medicaid is a 46-year-old health care program for the very poor, elderly and disabled. It is means tested, jointly funded by the federal and state governments, but managed by the states. It is known as the nation’s health care program for low-income Americans, though it currently covers only certain categories of people.

In 2010, Medicaid covered about 60 million people, with around 46 million of those being low-income children and their parents. It is the largest source of health insurance for our country’s children. Medicaid also covers almost 9 million non-elderly people with disabilities, among them 4 million children with physical and mental illnesses and 8 million low-income seniors who also qualify for Medicare. The dual qualified seniors usually are much sicker and poorer than regular Medicare recipients. Medicaid helps to pay these senior’s Medicare premiums, as well as pay for long-term or nursing home care. There is also a pregnancy benefit for low-income women that extends for the duration of the pregnancy.

The reason the Medicaid financials loom so large in our budget is that with the economic downturn, the numbers of potential Medicaid recipients has escalated dramatically. It essentially is a negative multiplier of the effects of poverty in our state. We receive less revenue from all sources, but the obligations on our system are increased exponentially by this “safety net” insurance feature.

This is one of the reasons for my fixation on jobs and economic development. As we create more good jobs, fewer South Carolinians fall into the safety net, so that even modest job gains boost our bottom line by a big number since the negative multiplier is reduced. Just as one lost job can create a whole family of Medicaid recipients, one new, good job can take all those family members off the Medicaid rolls.

Next week, I will offer a preview of some of the changes likely to be made in the Medicaid landscape.

For some good news, we only have to look as far as Old Town Bluffton. A week after the success of the Arts and Seafood Festival, this weekend saw great turnouts for both the Art Walk on Friday and the Palmetto Animal League (PAL) Beer and Oyster event at the Promenade on Saturday evening. Let’s extend the streak to the Taste of Waddell celebration next Sunday from 3-7 on the bluff at the Waddell Mariculture Center. I guarantee a great time for all.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

From the House

While most of us are paying very close attention to the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, it is worth noting that the part of government that will have the most profound effect on our day-to-day lives is local government. This is truly where the rubber meets the road. Much of this important work is done by you and your neighbors who volunteer time for work on boards and commissions associated with the county or municipalities, or in some cases, the state government. Ideally, there should be a waiting list for each of these opportunities to serve. This is rarely the case.

One of the functions of your Beaufort County Delegation is to appoint members to many of these crucial advisory bodies. Listed below are some of the appointments we would like to make if there are candidates to consider:


Beaufort County Transportation Committee (two vacancies)
Beaufort/Jasper Higher Education Committee (three commissioner’s terms expiring)
Beaufort/Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (one opening)
Coastal Empire Mental Healthcare Center Board of Directors (five terms set to expire with one immediate vacancy)
Lowcountry Tourism Commission (one vacancy)
South Island Public Service District (five terms expiring)

As the chairman of your delegation, I have set the next meeting for Monday, 7 November, at 10 a.m. in council chambers of the courthouse in Beaufort. If you have business before us, please contact Ashley at ashleys@bcgov.net to get on the agenda. Today is the deadline, but this has been in the papers for the last two weeks or so. I cannot overstate the importance of having qualified, motivated people to serve on these boards and commissions. If you want to get involved, we will find a place for you.

Speaking of involvement, the Bluffton Town Council elections are coming up next Tuesday, 8 November. There are two seats at issue with four good people running. There are a host of very pressing matters facing us in Bluffton, not the least of which are the quality of the May River water, the current affordable housing effort, reopening and revising development agreements, and annexation policy. The candidates have been working the neighborhoods, but with over 50 square miles and nearly 15000 residents, it will be difficult for all of us to have a personal conversation with each candidate.

However, the League of Women Voters of the Hilton Head/ Bluffton Area has stepped up to conduct a candidate’s forum tonight at 7 p.m. at Bluffton Town Hall. I urge each of you to attend and hear for yourselves what positions the candidates put forth and how they articulate and defend those positions. The second most important thing a citizen must do is become an informed voter. From my conversations, it is clear that there are numerous and stark contrasts between and among the positions of the four people running for office. Hope to see you there.

The most important thing a potential voter must to do to fulfill his or her obligation of engaged citizenship is to vote. Please become familiar with the issues and then vote. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, there are parts of Bluffton, especially the newer neighborhoods, whose record of voter participation leaves room for improvement.

We all have excuses for not doing those things we know we should. We are all busy. I get it. Having said that, I want to make clear that the absolute foundation of our representative democracy is the vote. The vote is our voice: it is “We the People.” Silence in this context is simply failure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Thanks for all the calls and emails on last week’s column about my gleanings from the Conference on School Choice in California. The feedback was about equally divided between positive and negative, which is pretty much what I expected. On emotional issues like school choice, I mostly hear from either defenders of the status quo or folks that want to go to an entirely different system. I am somewhere in the middle. I want to preserve and enhance those elements of the current system that are working, while allowing for creativity in evaluating variations and alternatives to what we have now, especially in areas of chronic deficiency. Your opinion and analysis will, of course, help guide my thinking on this crucially important matter.

Most of this week was spent in Charleston at a pre-session budget conference. We are trying to get out in front of some of the issues likely to dominate the budget portion of the new session beginning the second Tuesday of 2012.

Right now, we are taking a hard look at the State Retirement System, especially given the blows to our retirement trust account issued by the Great Recession.

When we speak of the State Retirement System, most people think it just covers state employees, or those of us in the statehouse. In truth, this system covers not only those working for the state, but also those working under what are called the local subdivisions. These are county and municipal employees. Also covered are school system workers, university and tech school employees, even the good folks making lunches in school cafeterias. This is obviously a very large pool of workers who have legitimate claims on the system to which they have contributed.

Currently that system has an unfunded liability of around $19 billion. Thirty-one percent of this liability is direct state employees, twenty-six percent is to local subdivisions, and forty-three percent is to local school systems. There are some structural reasons for our present situation but a large part of it has to do with the health of our investments. In 2008, the funds lost 2.56 percent, followed in 2009 by a massive loss of nearly 20 percent. Fortunately, this was followed by two years of gains of around 14 and 18 percent respectively. Unfortunately, as investors know, the miracle of compound interest works strongly against you in a down market. For example, if your portfolio contains 100 units, and it declines by 20 percent, you then have 80 units. If, in the next year, you gain 20 percent, you are still 4 percent behind where you began the previous year. Multiple down years take a tremendous toll, which often takes many years of great returns to make whole. This is a part of our current situation. It is a big challenge, but we will meet it head-on and you will hear all the details from me as they emerge.

On a lighter note, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival was another wildly successful event. We all need to thank Brooks Willis, the Festival Committee Chairman, along with Board President Mary O’Neil, VP Dan Wood, Secretary Tammy Sauter, and Treasurer Barry Connor, as well as board members Tina Toomer, Nancy Schilling, and Dave Dickson. Fantastic job from all the volunteers, Bluffton Rotary and the patient residents of Old Town.

Also, next Saturday, 29 October, from 11 to 3, will be the First Birthday Paw-ty of the PAL adoption center in the River Walk Business Park in Okatie. Might be the perfect time to adopt a grateful shelter pet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week, I was in California for, among several things, the Conference for School Choice. This was a convergence of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents whose focus was entirely on how to foster better educational outcomes for our children.

If our current educational system was doing the job, there would be no need for exploring newer ideas or processes. If our current system was more flexible, less one-size-fits-all, we wouldn’t be having this conversation around the country. As it is, we are spending ever increasing dollars on an effort that produces outcomes that suggest we are falling further and further behind our competitors in the global economy. This is a situation that is absolutely ripe for innovation.

In fact, one of the presenters at the conference spoke about how the late Steve Jobs, no slouch in the innovation field, was an active proponent of school choice. I urge you to Google an interview that Jobs gave to a newly minted “Wired” magazine in February of 1996. In the interview, Jobs reveals his enthusiastic support for a “full-on voucher system” as the economic driver of educational innovation.

While harnessing market forces to allow schools to compete with one another for the best teachers and students has an appeal to many, it also assumes that all people are profoundly interested in having their children receive the best education possible. Sadly, that is not always the case. Those children living in poverty or in dysfunctional family situations are at a disadvantage regardless of how their school is organized. Ninety percent of the speakers at the conference dealt in one way or another with how to get parents involved in their children’s education. It is a fact of life in our state that sometimes parents are too preoccupied with simple economic survival to properly attend to their children’s educational potential. We cannot simply discard these folks. Thus the challenge to optimize the system by providing different avenues to success tailored to the needs of students, and to parents across the economic spectrum.

In South Carolina, there is something of a chicken and egg situation between jobs and educational success. More and better jobs equal increasingly stable and functional families, which in turn leaves time and resources to pay attention to the successful education of the children in the family. Instead of taking a holistic look at what our culture needs to function optimally, we tend to look at the economy and education separately, without seeing the necessary connections. In my view, these seemingly separate challenges should be subsumed into a focus on what makes for successful families. Basic to all this is decent, well paying work for parents. Basic for decent, well paying jobs for the next generation is quality education. End of story.

Whether we will be able to meet those challenges is the test for this generation of public officials. As long as tax dollars in one form or another are used for education, the political process is how priorities are set and processes are funded. I say we commit to finding successful models, be they vouchers, education savings accounts, charter schools, semi-private schools or whatever, give them a real-life trial run with meaningful and honest metrics, and see what’s what.
In the meantime, I’m looking for another 600 jobs to add to those just announced for Jasper County. Families with sound economic underpinnings are much more likely to be participants in their children’s educational successes. The next Steve Jobs may be walking to Red Cedar Elementary this morning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We had an extraordinary number of calls last week on a variety of issues. Many of you wanted to comment on our job creation efforts in the local area. I appreciate those kind words. We are always active on the economic development front whether you hear about the specifics or not. We also got more calls on the new waste receptacles in the Promenade. It seems that each time we have some sort of event in the neighborhood, folks call in and let us know how much they like what we have done with the Calhoun Street Promenade, and how it’s always well kept and tidy. While, as developer, I do have a bit to do with keeping things nice, it is our great group of merchants and residents that do the heavy lifting in the spiffiness area.

One of the new tenants in the Promenade is Bluffton Today, our local newspaper. Kathy Nelson is the new editor and a fine addition to the excellent staff. Kathy is an interesting newspaperwoman and the consummate journalism professional. Bluffton Today is located in the first building on the right as you enter the Promenade from the south. I urge you to come by during business hours, meet the new editor and maybe take her to lunch and demonstrate that great Bluffton hospitality.

We have obviously had some job creation success with bringing in new companies from outside the area. However, it should be noted that the expansion of current businesses is starting to have a very positive impact on job growth. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the healthcare industry. Last week, we had a good meeting with the folks from Hilton Head Hospital and representatives from Candler St. Joseph Hospital, headquartered in Savannah, just across the river. The demographics of District 118, Greater Bluffton, and Beaufort County are such that the healthcare industry is bound to be a very large player in our local economy. In my view, it is important that my office act as something of a clearinghouse for accurate information that makes it easy for these businesses to locate here, or expand their current operations.

One of the features that businesses always want to know more about is our educational regime, from pre-kindergarten to baccalaureate level. They want to hear about not only a well-trained workforce, but also where the children of that workforce will go to school and what the offerings are. To be able to give a more comprehensive take on this topic, I am off to a school choice conference this week. The idea is to see how other communities have broken out of the one-size-fits-all mindset and improved educational outcomes by expanding the potential offerings on the menu. I’ll give you a report in the coming weeks.

Finally, we come to a good story of a young man who created his own job by doing what he is good at. Chris Shoemaker grew up on the May River and has become an expert waterman over the years. The son of Kathleen and Steven Shoemaker, Chris inherited great people skills and a love of the outdoors. Chris has opened a guide service to share his deep knowledge and understanding of the local estuarine environment. If you are new to the area, or just want to spend the day on our pristine river, give Chris a call. You won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Finally, the cool weather has arrived after a somewhat brutal summer. Most of us welcome the change, if for no other reason than October is the beginning of oyster season. The local tradition of the charity oyster roast presents an opportunity to savor what are arguably the finest oysters in the world while helping out the schools or my buddies at Rotary in the good works they perform.

As many of you know, the oyster has long been a symbol that seems to bind us together as Blufftonians, and as custodians of the incredible May River estuary, from which these succulent treats are harvested. Back in the old days, oyster canneries were common in the Lowcountry and Bluffton had more than our share. During the Great Depression, oyster harvesting and processing were some of the very few jobs available.

While there are still huge areas open to harvesting, my friends Larry and Tina Toomer of the Bluffton Oyster Company are nonetheless deeply concerned over recent shellfish closures in and around the headwaters of the May River. Your legislator will continue to work closely with the Town of Bluffton, Beaufort County, and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to reverse the closures and add protections to the currently pristine areas. This is something you will hear much more about in the upcoming session, as well as for years to come. Unlike in the old days, only a small number of jobs are directly tied to oystering. However, our clean and green Lowcountry is a powerful driver of our visitor and retirement economy. If we become careless with our natural resources, we will lose much more than oysters.

One of the potential tools of great effect in keeping our natural beauty is the Blue Ribbon Coastal Futures Committee, which has continued to meet over the summer with some regularity. As noted in a previous column, this group is chaired by my neighbor and friend Wes Jones, who is a local lawyer and former head of the Coastal Council. Wes does a great job running the meetings and keeping our focus on the matter at hand. Whether you know it or not, when you call or email my office with advice or suggestions on more effective water quality or land management regulation, you are contributing to the work of this committee, as many of your comments are submitted into the record of proceedings.

Continuing in the environmental vein, I want to thank all those who called to comment on the new trash receptacles installed around the Calhoun Street Promenade. These units are set up so that one side is for regular trash and the other side is for recyclable materials, such as glass bottles or aluminum cans. All the merchants and residents of the Promenade already do a good job of recycling, but we felt it would help the cause if we made it convenient for our visitors and patrons to automatically do the right thing.

Finally, one bit of housekeeping to mention. Some time ago, we had some email and web site issues that caused us to miss a portion of our usual traffic. Hargray got the matter corrected expeditiously but we keep getting emails from a month ago. If you don’t hear from us almost immediately when you send email or make calls, please resend your traffic. Technology is great but sometimes it falls short. We absolutely need to hear from you. So, if in doubt, please resend.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

I was distressed and saddened to hear of the untimely passing of my friend Don Ryan last week. As the President and CEO of CareCore National, Don and his team had a profound impact on the economic prospects of Bluffton and District 118, as well as Beaufort County. His vision for the future of this area was a strong part of the job growth success we have experienced locally and regionally. It is a rare individual who can see the big picture, not only from an economic point of view, but also from the standpoint of how good jobs can literally recreate a struggling community, one family at a time. Don Ryan was one of those individuals.

It is a fitting tribute to the legacy of this innovative entrepreneur and civic stalwart that the business incubator partnership between CareCore National and Clemson University will go forward as planned. My friend Jerry Stewart, the point of the economic development spear for Beaufort County Council gave me a good update on the relationship a couple of days ago. Even with our stunning loss, the challenge of quality job creation will have to be met. Sadly, one of our leaders, Don Ryan, has left us. He will be greatly missed.

Continuing in the economic sphere, I was fortunate to be able to attend the recent Home Builders Association event at 9 Promenade. These are some folks that have been hit pretty hard by the prolonged recession but still manage to remain upbeat about the turnaround, especially in the Bluffton area. One of the few positive aspects of enduring serious economic dislocation is that it forces us to be more creative and more efficient in our allocation of time and resources. This has been the case with us in the General Assembly, and certainly with the members of the HBA.

One of the most upbeat and positive people around is my good friend Steve Tilton, who just happens to be the current president of the association. Steve is not only an excellent businessman and creative homebuilder, he also is a fellow whose involvement in the community is second to none. It was a pleasure to spend some social time with Steve and his lovely wife Maureen, as well as so many of my friends and development colleagues from Beaufort and Jasper counties.

From a political perspective, I get a tremendous amount of actionable advise from the builders, as they are a huge segment of our economy, and as such, have a first-hand knowledge of what parts of the government are helping the cause, and which parts need to disappear. I encourage members of our delegation to attend these get-togethers for that very reason. This time around, Rep. Andy Patrick from Hilton Head was able to be with us. He and I agreed that we learned a lot and had a pretty good time as well. Executive Officer of the HBA, Ashley Feaster knows how to put on a great event.

Finally, the situation at the entrance to St Gregory the Great is not satisfactory, and has never been satisfactory. It is inconvenient and unsafe. I have had SCDOT down here a few times, in consultation with Sun City County Councilman Jerry Stewart and County Council Chairman Weston Newton. We are banging away at this problem and it will get better. Right now, I don’t have a timeline, but all the parties are equally upset, so we will see some movement on this sooner rather than later. Please be patient.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today


Last week, the number of constituent contacts we logged was an all-time high. This is unusual since we are not in session and there is not a single big issue, such as the budget or the immigration bill pending. What we do have is a huge number of smaller matters that each has a strongly motivated group of supporters. These include the dog fighting and dog baiting issue, along with redistricting concerns, especially the school board districts. We are also hearing a lot about municipal issues from Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Hardeeville.

Fortunately, our staff is well trained and willing to redirect callers to the proper offices for the information they seek. What you will never hear from us is: “it’s not my job”. While we may not give advise in matters outside of our jurisdiction, we know that oftentimes residents are not familiar with the particulars of the various levels of government. It is our job to be helpful to any who call or email regardless of whether we are technically the correct office to handle their inquiry.

Although we will help correct any confusion on the part of callers, it is important to note that we have excellent relations with both Beaufort and Jasper counties, as well as the municipalities in our area, both inside and out of District 118. Part of the success we have enjoyed in the last decade has to do with keeping the lines of communication open, down to the local jurisdictions and up to the federal level in Washington. The price of miscommunication, especially at this time of strained budgets and general incivility, is just something we cannot afford.

Communication and civility were two of the high spots during last week’s reception for your representative at the home of my great friend Joanie Heyward in old town Bluffton. Among the hundred plus friends and supporters gathered on a balmy pre-fall afternoon were my Beaufort County delegation colleagues Senator Tom Davis and Representative Shannon Erickson, as well as Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton. We also were joined by members of the financial, legal and health care communities, along with a number of what are correctly called “the job creators”, that is, of course the business community.

These good folks were treated to a well-appointed table of great food and beverages, arranged around the pool in Joanie’s back yard. They also heard an interesting talk from Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, who held forth on a variety of topics from redistricting (including some inside notes on our chances with the DOJ review), state employment prospects, and the bright future of the Waddell Mariculture Center.

Speaker Harrell and I were both thankfully brief in our prepared remarks so that there was a goodly amount of social time with many topical issues being the grist for spirited and information-rich conversation.

Looking out over the crowd, I was gratified to see so many of the folks that gave me the benefit of the doubt ten years ago and helped launch my political career. It was also great to see so many younger people interested in the mechanics of good governance. I am grateful for the confidence, as well as the material support that flows from this multigenerational base. Most importantly, I am sincerely humbled by the unwavering affection and support of my beautiful wife and “speaker of our house”, Mary Herbkersman. Her patience and wise counsel makes all things possible for me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From The House

Bluffton Today

We had quite a number of calls on a story that we broke a couple of weeks ago concerning the dog baiting issue. I had a good chat with Chief McAllister on this matter at the time and will meet with him early next week to see where we go from here. It seems that evidence of dog baiting is one of those bellwether activities that really gets the attention of law enforcement, especially those involved in the proactive field of community policing.

We are fortunate to have Chief McAllister in Bluffton, as he is a nationally recognized “community policing” expert, having published scholarly papers on different aspects of this law enforcement specialty. I look forward to hearing his views on how we can rid our community of these despicable forms of animal abuse and all the related activities that go along with dog fighting and dog baiting.

An interesting sidebar to the story has to do with the poor animal whose discovery sparked the widespread outrage since we initially broke the story. The dog now has a name, “Malachi”, and his rehabilitation has become something of a personal matter in the community. So much so that there is an event planned for Saturday, Sept. 24th at 8 pm at Montana’s Restaurant, to raise funds to help Malachi and other fighting dogs that are likely to be discovered as Chief McAllister turns up the heat on this heinous “sport”. The event is sponsored by Three Black Dogs, whose number is 706-3456. Call them for more info and to contribute.

I want to also thank all the friends who called last week to let us know our web site, as well as my legislative email account, was down. It took some doing, but finally the good folks over at Hargray were able to track down the problem and set things right.

As if we needed more evidence that Bluffton punches well above its weight, the Tea Party Express is coming to our little town for an event on September 10th. As the developer of the Calhoun St. Promenade, it has been our policy to host any and all charity or political events on the community space in the center of the park. In keeping with that longstanding policy, we welcome the Tea Party Express and look forward to hearing from some of the heavy hitters vying for the GOP presidential nomination.

From past tea party events, we couldn’t help but notice that our gathering place in the Promenade is always just as trash free and immaculate after the rally as it was before. We appreciate this example of responsible event planning more than you know. I also appreciate the emphasis that these folks place on shrinking the size of government, an issue your representative has been aggressively championing for nearly a decade. When you combine our striving to repatriate more Beaufort County tax dollars back to local needs with an overall downsizing of the state government, it turns out we can do both at the same time. This results, paradoxically, in Beaufort County being somewhat less of a donor county, while at the same time increasing the state contribution to our schools and roads. I’m certainly glad to have the tea party energy working with me on this two-track mission.

Finally, more indicators of the ascending status of District 118 and Beaufort County. There is to be a reception for your representative at the beautiful home of my dear friend Joanie Heyward next Thursday, September 15th. The special guest speaker is my friend and colleague, Rep. Bobby Harrell, Speaker of the SC House of Representatives. For more information, contact Donna Martin at 864-561-3738

Sunday, August 28, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We got a fair number of calls and emails regarding last week’s column. I greatly appreciate the fact that the general tone of this back and forth was business-like and cordial, with a complete suspension of the few examples we have seen of rudeness and inappropriate commentary. I think the relentless heat this time of year was responsible for what we were hearing. As we approach the cooler fall weather, I predict we return to normal Bluffton courtesy and cordiality.

With the near constant talk of redistricting, there is something of a misunderstanding as to when the district lines will alter. While District 118 is going to include part of Jasper County and Hardeeville, that change is some time down the road. In the meantime, please refer your questions on Jasper issues to the Jasper County Delegation office where Rep. Curtis Brantley and Sen. Clementa Pinckney are available to deal with your problems and questions. While I have a keen interest in Jasper and Hardeeville issues, at this time that interest is of a concerned neighbor.

One of my recent “off season” concerns is all the publicity that surrounds the perception that SCDOT is not paying its bills. There is confusion as to whether our road and bridge builders are handling their resources properly. Part of this has to do with the scheduling of work and the different scheduling of receipt of revenues by SCDOT. This is a complex matter that lends itself to some misunderstanding by those that want to oversimplify the process. Anticipating this problem, I asked the financial side of SCDOT to forward me a weekly update of their fiscal situation, which is my right as a member of Ways and Means. Here is where we stand:

SCDOT cash balance on 21 August was $61 million. $49 million has subsequently been sent to the South Carolina Comptroller General’s office for processing as payments to the contractor’s you may have been reading about. For the month of August, SCDOT has made $125 million in contractor payments, vendor payments, and payroll. It is my understanding that, as of today, all unpaid vendor invoices are within the thirty-day working period and are scheduled for processing. On the revenue side, SCDOT is anticipating receipt of the state gas revenues from the Department of Revenue on September 6th or 7th, estimated at around $35 million. The SCDOT is expected to receive normal reimbursements from the Federal Highway Administration the first two weeks of September that will bring total September reimbursements, by my estimate, to around $70 million.

The cash balance for September, with the infusion of state and federal dollars will provide adequate resources to meet payroll, debt service, contractor and vendor payments to ensure the agency will have no outstanding bills over thirty working days, which is what we mandate in the state. More importantly, we do have adequate and accountable resources for the highway and bridge maintenance programs to go forward in a prudent and predictable fashion.

We will continue ahead with some projects, including $89 million in federally funded projects eligible for reimbursement. I believe we may hold off on about $24 million in state funded projects, which were not included in my above estimates. This, in my view, is simply a matter of controlling cash flow in recognition of today’s fiscal realities.

Monday, August 22, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We got an amazing number of calls and emails commenting on last week’s column, primarily on the animal abuse and the “bottle bill” that will be coming up next session. As always, I appreciate the responses we get to topics presented in the column. Over the years, it has been a fertile field of ideas, many of which have found their way into legislation, and ultimately into law.
As much as I enjoy the conversation when you call, sometimes it is better if you will compose your thoughts into an email. That way, when we conduct hearings on the various matters under consideration, I can enter your correspondence into the official record, as well as read your words before the committee or subcommittee charged with reviewing the issue. Some of the emails we received on the bottle bill were absolutely masterful. They represented several different takes on how to encourage recycling of beverage bottles, as well as examples of unintended consequences of different laws in other states.
The idea that the state might impose a deposit on disposable beverage containers is not without controversy. Both sides of this issue were well represented in the calls and emails we received. As with most of the matters that come up for legislative treatment, there is no completely clean, good answer to the question. Mostly it is a matter of whether we should even consider a legislative solution, and if so, which is the one approach with the best cost/benefit ratio. Obviously, the more serious input we have, the more likely we will arrive at a good outcome. You are an integral part of the process and, in truth, you make me look pretty good sometimes. Thank you.
There is a side to this that I need to touch on, albeit reluctantly. While the overwhelming majority of constituent contacts we handle are serious, businesslike transactions, we are beginning to see more and more rude or insulting comments and suggestions. Having been a businessman for most of my life, I know that not everyone is a satisfied customer. If you have a complaint, I want to hear it. I need to hear it. However, if you are unkind to my staff, or use language that would make your mother cringe, perhaps you should calm down before making that call or composing that ugly email. If you think it’s a good idea to torture animals for our amusement, explain it to me calmly. If it is truly your right and privilege to throw your empty beer bottles on the side of the road, make a case for it. Maybe I’m missing something.
It’s no secret that we have an unemployment problem in our state. I work on it every day. I think about it every night. There are two local folks that not only think about it, they decided to make their own jobs. Bud and Shirley Mingledorff are a couple of friends of mine who are fun Bluffton people that want to take you fishing. If you don’t want to fish, they will ride you and your friends around in one of their nice boats while you enjoy our beautiful Lowcountry. If you want to take a bunch of folks over to Savannah for dinner on River Street, Mingledorff Charters might be just how you want to get there and back.
Bud and Shirley may not have the answer to all our economic woes, but they are certainly a part of the solution--and a creative, fun part at that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to begin my recap of this session’s high spots, as well as begin to give you an idea of what is likely to be in play as the legislature reconvenes after the first of the year. First, I’d like to share a piece of disturbing information I recently received, so maybe we can all be on the lookout for this kind of activity.
My good friend Leigh West Brown found a lab mix dog that had apparently been used in some sort of dog baiting or dog fighting activity. She shared the info with me, along with extremely disturbing photos. The cruelties that this poor animal had endured, presumably as part of some sort of sick entertainment, were simply horrifying. The law is very clear in this matter, made even more clear by recent updates to the statutes as we in the General Assembly were made aware of the extent of the problem.
If you come across animals that are mistreated for any reason, call law enforcement. If you come across any kind of dog fighting, chicken fighting, or baiting, please call law enforcement. This should not be something we tolerate in our community. Also, you might want to contact Leigh West Brown to see how you can help.
As a tourist area, we have more than our share of opportunities for outdoor recreation, sometimes while consuming various adult beverages. Done in a responsible manner, this can be good fun and a source of lasting memories. It also presents us with a potential disposal problem if folks are not careful. My friend, Senator Ray Cleary from Myrtle Beach has proposed a measure called the Alcoholic Beverage Container Recycling Bill, which passed the Senate but for various reasons was not taken up by the House. We will get a look at it in January.
While there are various ways we can encourage recycling, I’d really like to hear from any of you who might have experience in the ways that this can be handled. If you lived in a state with a deposit system, how did it work? Is this even something the state should have an opinion on? Let me hear from you.
One of the good things we managed to accomplish this last session was the continuation of the Land Conservation Bank. While we were unable to pledge any funds for actual purchases this time around, it is important that this tool was preserved for future use. This is especially true in our part of the world as both Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County have very successful and well-respected land preservation programs. In the past, both entities have partnered with the state to preserve lands in our neighborhoods, either by fee simple acquisition or purchase of development rights.
The Conservation Bank program was slated to sunset in 2013. However, House Bill 3083, written by my pal Mike Pitts, was passed with a comfortable majority to extend the life of the bank for an additional ten years.
Another forward-looking bill called the Commercial Center Revitalization Act, written by Rep. James Smith, was passed along with a Concurrent Resolution encouraging the Councils of Government (COGs) to draft ordinances to enable the retrofitting of shopping centers into dense, walkable, mixed-use town centers. As our commercial infrastructure ages, we need to have off-the-shelf solutions to repurpose and recycle these assets. This bill seeks to do just that.
More highlights to come as we trend into fall and the end of this hottest of summers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

The number of calls increased last week despite the heat and the end of the session. A number of the calls were about issues that I am interested in, but have no special knowledge, such as school district matters, the federal debt ceiling, and even some town issues. Like you, I have opinions on these things; and sometimes I may be able to point you in a more productive direction for information, but unless it is a state matter, my opinions are just that.

One of the issues that folks are interested in has to do with redistricting, which is a process that is related to the work of the Census Bureau. Every ten years, they count us, determine where we all live, and help decide how our political institutions should be realigned so that we all have a fairly equal say in the government. From the state’s perspective, we do two major jobs: we decide where the new General Assembly district lines should be so that each political sub-division has roughly the same number of folks. You may remember that my district, 118, increased to almost twice as many residents as it should have, so I have been given a reconfigured area that is more proportional population-wise with the surrounding areas. I still represent Old Town Bluffton and most of Sun City, but I also have Hardeeville and much of southern Jasper County.

Since our state has increased in population while other states have decreased, we were awarded an additional congressional district, the seventh. Historically, we had seven congressional districts until the 1930s when we lost population as other states, mostly in the industrial northeast, made substantial gains. Now the process has reversed and we have seven districts again.

It is the job of the General Assembly to draw the new district lines. This time around, there were two plans for the new district-- one had Beaufort as the center of the new constituency, and the other had Horry County/Myrtle Beach as its anchor. In my view, both plans had strengths and weaknesses, but the folks from the Grand Strand prevailed.

Our new congressional home is in the First Congressional District, with Tim Scott as our congressman. As Congressman Scott is a friend of mine, and much of our Coastal Caucus is located between North Charleston and here, I wasn’t too disappointed to lose the new designation. In fact, after reflection, it seems to me that we have come out of this reapportioning process with much more political and economic coherence than was previously the case. While we are grateful for the good work of Congressman Wilson and especially to his “go to” staffer Cris Steele, our new situation offers much positive potential.

In the past, reapportioning was usually a messy, insider-driven process. More often than not, the courts would intervene and outcomes were puzzling to the average voter. This time around, I believe we did a good job of running this difficult process with much more openness and stakeholder input. The credit for this goes, in large part, to my friend Jim Harrison (R-Richland Co.). Jim is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the group tasked with getting this thing done in a fair, business-like manner. I hope at least some of you attended the community input sessions that were organized across the state.

Finally, the fact that we have another congressman also means that we have another electoral vote in the presidential election. Sometimes, things just keep getting better.

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

The seemingly endless session is now officially at an end. It’s time for those of us in leadership to begin our extracurricular activities on your behalf. It has already been a busy off-season, with much more on the agenda.
With the new congressional district now centered in the Myrtle Beach/Horry County area, we are reunited with our coastal compatriots in a district extending from Charleston to Beaufort County. This will offer us a much greater congruency with our colleagues from the Coastal Caucus. In the last six or eight years, the resurgent Coastal Caucus, led mostly by your delegation, has become a potent force in the General Assembly. One of our premier agenda items is the preservation and continuing support for the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. In this, we can expect congressional attention from my friend, Tim Scott, congressman from Charleston and no stranger to Beaufort County.
Another of my extracurricular activities that will also have a direct bearing on clean water issues is the ongoing work of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, chaired by my neighbor and friend Wes Jones. Along with my friends Tom Peeples, former Mayor of Hilton Head Island, and Joe Riley, Mayor of Charleston, we continue meeting to hash out issues that become ever more pressing as an increasing number of folks move to our area and the threat of rising sea levels becomes more apparent. We are attempting to create good public policy that also respects the rights of private property owners. It’s a tall order but I am constantly impressed by the amount of experience and the degree of mental horsepower represented on this committee.
Whatever the outcome of the current debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, two things are becoming clearer relative to our situation in South Carolina. Firstly, by contrast, our rancorous and protracted state budget process looks like the work of a conclave of serene economic philosophers next to the federal trainwreck. Secondly, the level of uncertainty attendant to both public and private finances is elevated regardless of the outcome. If this spectacle results in even a partial default, the uncertainty is increased exponentially.
Whatever the level of uncertainty, the work we are doing on both the Caucus Tax Committee and the Tax Realignment Commission is given added urgency. After three years of double-digit percentage reductions to our state budget, we are potentially looking at dramatic federal changes, whether to the Medicaid 3 to 1 match, highway dollars, or even to things we cannot at this point anticipate. It’s an interesting time.
However much we are confronted with uncertainty over future finances, there is one thing that is beyond party and beyond policy. That is the return of local hero Jeff Fulghum. For the last three weeks, a good number of constituent calls and emails to my office have been about Jeff. How is he doing? What are his plans? Is there going to be a public event for him?
This Thursday at 7pm, after the Farmer’s Market, Jeff will be at Vineyard 55 across from Miss Babbie’s Store on Calhoun St. We need to make absolutely certain this young man understands the depth of this community’s gratitude for his service and his sacrifice for our country.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We had a ton of calls and emails about last week’s column. Many of you wanted to know more about Jeff Fulghum and how he is doing. I can only say that he is out and about but still needs some time to get reintegrated into Bluffton life. There is also the distinct possibility that he may have to heal a bit before he is his former active self. Nonetheless, when you see him, give him a handshake and tell him thanks.
There were also a fair number of calls concerning the budget and budget process, especially if the budget gives us any clues as to whether the state government is shrinking, expanding or staying about the same. The answer is that by most indicators, we are shrinking the size of state government. While the budget numbers have been declining for years, perhaps a better metric is the number of state employees.
In 2001, there were roughly 67,000 workers on the state payroll. In March of this year, the headcount was a little over 60,000. That is a decrease of around 11%. While that may seem like a smallish reduction, except that our state has traditionally run a very lean operation, and in that context, 11% reduction is profound. Needless to say, any deadwood that may have been there is long gone. In my experience, we have a pretty dedicated, competent workforce at the state.
One of our best, most competent state employees is my buddy Al Stokes, the site manager at the Waddell Mariculture Center here in Bluffton. Al and his crew do great work on a lot of fronts, including the various stocking programs and a number of research projects. Al was also one of the first folks I called when I heard about the problems on the Bluffton sandbars. Part of the Department of Natural Resources mandate is to monitor the rivers for potential pollution issues. Part of his response was to send me some info on what some of the other areas of the state are doing to protect their water quality.
One of the more interesting programs is being done by the City of Columbia and is called “Drains are not Dumps” to help folks understand that whatever goes into the storm drains goes directly into the river. Like us, they have a big problem with pet waste, motor oil, yard debris, and a host of other substances that residents choose to make “disappear” down the storm drains.
Our friends up in Horry County have a tremendous stormwater management problem that has resulted in beach water bacteria readings that far exceed safe swimming standards. Obviously, this has tremendous implications for their tourism industry. They are in the middle of a multiyear program to address the problem. The cost estimate for the effort is somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million.
As more people move to our part of the Lowcountry and more folks discover what a great place this is to visit, the pressure on our waters continues to grow. If we can’t show an appropriate level of respect for our natural resources, we are in for some unpleasant surprises. We all want clean water and we all want low taxes. If we don’t do the right thing, we may find ourselves with neither. My brand of conservatism assumes a certain level of individual responsibility.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

We finally got some relief from the heat and drought here in the Lowcountry with the welcome rains of last Thursday and Friday. Out where we live, the landscape seemed to issue a collective sigh of gratitude when the rain finally began to fall and the summer heat momentarily tapered off.

Speaking of relief and gratitude, my good friend Jeff Fulghum is back in Bluffton after another year’s deployment in Afghanistan. You may remember that I have written about Jeff from time to time over the years, not only because he is a great fellow and a good friend, but because he exemplifies so many of the aspects of personal courage and service that I admire. Modest almost to a fault, he told me his finest achievement was making sure all fourteen soldiers under his squad leadership are now safe at home. This was in spite of a year’s worth of tough patrols and missions, with more than a few enemy engagements.

When Jeff says that things were tough, my sense is that was something of an understatement, given the fact that he spent some time in Mississippi on his way back home having neurological exams for combat wounds. His vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) on May 28, and he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, concussion, smoke inhalation, and will probably have significant hearing loss. I’d say that qualifies as tough duty.

At a time when we hear far too much from blowhard chicken hawks and sunshine patriots of various stripes, Jeff Fulghum is a genuine patriot who stepped up and did hard, hazardous, and heroic service in a faraway place that is alien to our beautiful Bluffton in every way imaginable. For his efforts, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, high honors both.

Jeff is back in Bluffton, so when you see him, be certain to shake his hand and let him know how proud we are of him and how thankful we are for his service.

Finally, the session should wind up in the House the week of the 25th with some added visibility on reapportionment. At this time, it looks like the House of Representatives remap will be pretty close to what you have read in this column. However, the state Senate and the federal House of Representatives are still in flux.

After what has been a particularly difficult and protracted session, I am looking forward to spending more time in the office and talking with you about what we need to be preparing for the next go-round as we reconvene after the first of the year. As much as I have come to enjoy the back and forth of politics in Columbia, my greatest pleasure is still listening to the folks back in the Lowcountry. If I can help bring a new business or manufacturing plant to our area, I feel like we’ve made progress. If I, or my staff can help a constituent find the right person to help them with a state benefit problem, it’s a win. If I can help lower your taxes, or resolve a regulatory issue, it’s a win. It just reminds me why we call it the House of Representatives.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to start this week by responding to phone calls and emails, beginning with all the good folks commenting on the election of Judge Malphrus. There seems to be a high level of agreement with the notion that Deborah Malphrus is going to make a terrific judge. She was impressive in all her interviews, candid with her answers to the many questions in multiple venues, and generally was the embodiment of judicial presence.

We are fortunate that the Lowcountry has another fine judicial asset to add to Solicitor Stone, Sheriff Tanner and Chief McAllister. We definitely have the cream of the crop.

In that same vein, congrats to Cpl. Mike Creason of the Bluffton Police Dept. for being named School Resource Officer of the Year in Region 4 for his work at McCracken Middle School in Bluffton. Cpl. Creason was also the winner of the inaugural Eric Bamberg Award as the Outstanding School Resource Officer of the Year for the entire state. Even before this recognition, Mike Creason was always, it seemed to me, the example of a caring, competent police officer that made us all proud. Outstanding work, Mike!

Another topic that got a lot of phone and email play was the sandbar issue. You may remember several years ago, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) came down pretty hard on bad behavior in the river and especially the sandbars. The issues were excessive drinking and uncontrolled dogs. In response to many, many calls, I had a meeting with my friends at DNR to ask them to back it down a bit, which they did. I was given assurances from many of you that we could take care of the matter locally, which, in my view, is the preferable way to go. In fact, for quite some time afterwards, the behavior on and around the sandbars was much improved. Folks seemed to take responsibility for keeping things under control simply by having the appropriate conversation with those that might not understand the local customs.

From what I heard from many of you this past week, I believe those conversations are about to begin again. As the representative of a rather conservative district, I know we can take care of this problem by setting a good example, and if need be, having the appropriate chat with visitors or newcomers who might not understand that we need to preserve and protect what nature has given us. One of the fundamental tenets of my brand of conservatism has to do with individual responsibility. I personally chafe when government decides to regulate that which I think we can do just fine regulating ourselves. The “nanny” state has no place in Bluffton.

Over the summer, I will continue to talk about the budget and some of the good things that come from keeping taxes low. The recent announcements of mid-size manufacturers locating in Jasper County have everything to do with our tax policies and how they affect our competitiveness. According to a finding of the U.S. Census Bureau Tax Foundation, our state has the lowest state taxes per capita in the nation. We are also in the top tier of several respected competitiveness rankings. How we got there and what it means are things you need to know.

Monday, July 4, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Before we get to the statehouse activity of the week, I want to pause for a moment and reflect on the meaning of this Independence Day, the 4th of July on which we celebrate the beginning of our transition from a cluster of colonies in the new world to a new nation destined to reshape the political geography of the entire planet. With a simple declaration, we ultimately went from dependence upon Great Britain and all that implies, to an independent nation ruled only by the will of a people who put together a governmental process so powerful and durable that for over two centuries, we have served as an exemplar of the unlimited potential of self-determination. From every corner of the globe, the American model is lifted as a lantern of freedom by peoples struggling in the dimness of tyranny and oppression. Our Declaration of Independence is no longer only a statement of American values, it has evolved into something akin to a global affirmation of inspiration and aspiration.

By all means, enjoy your day off. Enjoy a day on the river, or at a patriotic celebration, but also give some thought to those ideas that gave us the beginnings of our place as the primary nation among nations. If, however, in the course of our daily political back and forth, we should lose our grasp on these ideas that bind us as a nation, we will in time, lose our place among nations. The necessity has never been more real.

Speaking of political back and forth, the session that seems to never end continued last week with a raft of vetoes from the governor and an almost equally tall pile of overrides. I got a ton of calls from you on the SCETV veto, as did many of my colleagues. While there is a good case to be made for SCETV having the benefit of some level of free-market input, the governor’s veto seemed to ignore the fact that the statewide television network has many functions, such as aiding in evacuations, Amber alerts, Wifi and Internet components, as well as educational and corporate duties. The role of SCETV should be a standalone debate and not simply a feature of the budget process.

Many of you were disappointed that the governor vetoed the funding for the Arts Commission, even after we had moved it over to Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT). The arts are such a well performing part of our tourism and job creation efforts that simply slashing the very modest funding seemed gratuitous and unsound. In addition, such a veto certainly sends a baffling message to companies that might be thinking of moving a component or even a headquarters to our state.

Finally, among the many phone calls we received this week, perhaps the most welcome was from my dear friend of many years and fellow BT columnist Carolyn Bremer. As a warm water swimmer in her precious “River Maye”, Carolyn, among many others, is concerned with the overcrowding and poor stewardship threatening our lovely sandbars. Friends, this is an opportunity for us to step up and take care of what may become an enforcement issue. If we, as locals, don’t set a good example, we really can’t expect others to do the right thing.

(Is it just me, or do the second paragraph and the last paragraph of this piece seem to be about pretty much the same thing?)

Monday, June 27, 2011

From The House

Constituent service call numbers are soaring along with the temperature. We were back up last week in the 370 range, not too surprising considering we were finishing up the budget. The extended session continues as the summer rolls on. My duty is in Columbia, but the May River is calling me.

I mentioned last week that the Beaufort County delegation had pushed through the candidacy of a worthy Jasper County resident for the Family Court judgeship. We had a number of calls wanting to know why we were supporting a candidate from a neighboring county rather than “one of our own” for this prestigious position. A good question that deserves a serious, straightforward answer.

The first part of the answer has to do with the candidate, now the judge. She is Deborah Malphrus, from Ridgeland. Most of the delegation members knew Deborah as a very talented and successful lawyer with a thriving practice. She also has been on the board of the Palmetto Electric Coop for many years, serving as chairman for a number of those years. In fact, the more we got to know the prospective judge, the more convinced we became that she would bring great skill and presence to the bench. This is not to say that there were not other very qualified candidates; there were several who would have certainly been given positive consideration had they not had the misfortune to come up at the same time as Deborah Malphrus.

As far as being “one of our own”, Deborah graduated from USC Law School and has been a fixture of the Lowcountry legal scene for many years. Early on, she clerked for the late Circuit Judge Carol Conner, later to become Appeals Court Justice Connor. Her father was the legendary Ridgeland lawyer Joseph N. Malphrus. Her brother is recently retired Jasper County Probate Judge Joseph N. Malphrus Jr. The tradition of public service in her family is strong, especially considering that at least one of her three children is looking to begin law school in the very near future.

As to why her candidacy was not forwarded by the Jasper delegation, the answer is that their delegation is currently small and composed of Democrats. In my view, the interests of securing a judge of Deborah Malphrus’s quality and character overwhelmingly trumped any partisan considerations.

While our work with Judge Malphrus began before the outlines of the new house districts began to take shape, her election certainly gets our work on the new Beaufort/Jasper delegation off on the right foot. I have every confidence that Judge Malphrus’s time on the Family Court bench will be characterized by prudence, competence and appropriate compassion.

Bluffton is fortunate to have two members on the SC Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management. They are your representative and committee chairman Wes Jones. We met two weeks ago in Columbia at the DNR Board Room and discussed agenda items generally related to the DHEC policy of beachfront retreat. Our goal is to develop specific regulatory recommendations relating to the findings of the DHEC Shoreline Change Advisory Committee. Essentially, we are trying to find that middle ground between the public good and private property rights relating to areas where the water meets the land. This is a process, which will be ongoing, and I will report to you from time to time on our accomplishments as well as frustrations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

From the House

The number of phone calls and emails didn’t set any records this week, but it is amazing the level of interest this late in the process. We are in extended session, with a shortened week mostly dealing with cleanup and reapportionment. Still, we had 323 constituent contacts. The bulk of the calls were either on reapportionment or the Moss Creek Plantation dock system. Interestingly, many of the calls were from folks in Jasper County, now that the new district outlines are beginning to clarify.
As it now stands, District 118 is going to extend eastward to Burnt Church Road in Bluffton, including just about everything west of that, including Highway 46, Palmetto Bluff, the Buckwalter tract, Sun City, all the way to Hardeeville and over to I-95 and back to the Savannah River. This general designation will exclude Rose Hill Plantation and several other plantations on the Bluffton side of Highway 278.
The new district (120) will extend eastward from Burnt Church Road and pick up Myrtle Island, All Joy and the former Ulmer properties all the way north to Moss Creek Plantation. The district boundary will move westward along the north side of Highway 278, then north along Highway 170 to include Riverbend and Oldfield, extending all the way to Ridgeland.
The legislative implications of this new configuration are tremendous. With two seats bridging Beaufort and Jasper counties, we are bonded with our neighboring county in a manner that should give our corner of the Lowcountry a greatly increased profile not only in the legislature but in our economic development regimes as well. Regionalism has, up to this point, been something that everyone supports rhetorically but when it comes to practical cases, not so much. With the new configuration, regionalism is a legislative fact on the ground. Working in concert, our efforts regarding the port will be multiplied. Our chances of locating and sealing the deal with the next CareCore are greatly enhanced. Even the potential funding for USCB and TCL looks to benefit from a Beaufort/Jasper delegation working the budget.
In anticipation of our working partnership with our friends in Jasper County, next week I will tell you about how one of our important judgeships was captured by a worthy Jasper resident and the crucial role played in that process by your Beaufort County delegation. She’ll be an outstanding judge, and it’s a pretty good story to boot.
Finally, I want to remind everyone that school is out for the summer and our roads and sidewalks are filled with children on bikes, skateboards, scooters, and sometimes even golf carts and fourwheelers. Please be careful and attentive. The same goes for our rivers and creeks. A second of inattention while leaving or arriving at the sandbar can literally be life changing. More and more folks have found the May River and our sandbars. It is up to us locals to set a good example.
As always, over the summer, I will give you an overview of the session in terms of what passed and what it means. I will also give you an idea of what gets carried over and what we are likely to see next year. That is, of course, if we ever draw this session to a close.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From the House

As Governor Haley and Senator McConnell were playing our their little drama last week, many of you were calling my office for some sort of explanation. In fact, 378 of you called, mostly to comment on the dust-up or to seek some understanding of what, to many, seemed like a schoolyard slap-fight.
In time, and with the intervention of the court, the matter was settled and the status quo was regained as all the combatants resumed a tense but amicable working relationship. My candid explanation of the events will have to wait for my autobiography.
From the standpoint of the House of Representatives, the matter was somewhat moot, as we passed all the long-needed reform measures back in March. Governor Haley wants the Senate to do likewise. To refresh your memory: H.3152 puts the Governor and the Lt. Governor on the same ticket—The House passed it 106-6 on March 3rd. H.3070 deals with the Superintendent of Education being appointed by the Governor. It passed the House 82-28 on March 3rd. H.3066 created the Department of Administration and was passed by the House also on March 3rd by a vote of 96-13. And the last of the Governor’s commonsense reforms, the combining of the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole with the Department of Corrections (H.3267) was passed by the House March 31st on a vote of 81-21.
Of these bills, the creation of the Department of Administration has the potential to rationalize and streamline many of the critical functions of state government. If it does nothing more than reform our antiquated procurement regime, it will have been a wise move. However, I will report from time to time how the potential is translating into actual benefit with regard to getting the most value for the taxpayer’s dollars.
Suffice to say that this is not the first time the House has done the hard work of investigating critical needs, refining the intent and the language of the bills in sub-committee and full committee, and producing good legislation, only to have the senate process derail, delay or deny the manifest will of the people. Admittedly, the senate process allows for one or two members to hold up the entire proceedings-- sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for embarrassingly trivial ones. Fortunately, our Senator Tom Davis is always a team player with regard to Beaufort County Delegation mission critical matters.
My hope is that the Senate will expeditiously address the reform agenda already passed by the House.
Finally, I want to refocus on the local Bluffton scene to let you know that my friend Aaron Dowell has opened the Bluffton Boat Center in Burnt Church Park near Monster Pizza. I have known Aaron for a lot of years and he is a good fellow and a great craftsman. I expect the Bluffton Boat Center to reflect both those features.
This piece of good news illuminates why my legislative agenda is always about jobs, environmental conservation, and the preservation of the Waddell Mariculature Center. Aaron created his own job and all the jobs of the folks that work for him or will work for him because people want to enjoy the cleanest water in the state, right here in Beaufort County. The Mariculture Center, with their cobia and redfish programs, as well as their research efforts, also make for great fishing in our area. Our modest efforts to keep our waters clean and our support of healthy fish populations not only give us great quality of life, they create good jobs and good business for smart entrepreneurs like Aaron Dowell.

Monday, June 6, 2011

From The House

We had almost 350 constituent contacts this last week, which was a little unexpected given the holidays. Many of these calls and emails were about the budget process, which is in the reconciliation phase with the Senate. A fair number, however, were concerning my traditional Memorial Day column — for which I’m grateful.

You may remember that we completed budget work on the House side and sent it on to the Senate in March. While this document was the product of much hard work, it was also based on revenue assumptions that have since been modified (for the better) and did not include some of the bills that have subsequently become law and need funding.

One of the ways we prepare for the ultimate conference committee negotiation with our Senate colleagues is to prepare amendments to our original budget that reflect the revenue changes, the new legislation and our House Ways and Means vision of how we should spend the people’s money. Amendment 1-A was offered by our chairman, Dan Cooper, in the Appropriations Bill, and it amended back to the version we passed in March.

The most significant change in the original budget was the addition of $210 million that has become available since March. We immediately replaced $97 million of nonrecurring funds with $105 million of recurring funds in the Education Finance Act (EFA). We always try to use recurring dollars whenever possible to avoid the scramble during the next funding cycle to find funds that may have been nonrecurring and not recurred, such as temporary federal grants or temporarily diverted trust account funds. My thinking on using one-time money for ongoing needs is well known, but I will elaborate in a future column.

The changes to the EFA funding had the beneficial effect of raising the anticipated per-student base cost to $1,876, which is an $88 improvement over the original budget.

We also directed $146 million into nonrecurring funds to begin to pay off the unemployment insurance loan to the federal government. This is, of course, the proper thing to do. However, it runs me hot that we borrow from the feds at a higher rate to take care of our unemployed workers than is charged the banks on the discount rate. It is federalism, but not a particularly cooperative version, in my view.

In addition, we clarified the language relating to the prohibition of lobbyists being paid with general fund dollars. The budget amendment also increases state contribution to libraries, as well as funds the Illegal Immigration Bill and the Voter ID Bill and continues implementation of the statewide accounting system. Additional funding also puts us on a trajectory to build the 5 percent General Reserve Fund mandated by the voters in November 2010. This should happen five years ahead of schedule.

This last feature was something that I worked hard on as we are increasing our “rainy day” fund at the end of a serious financial downturn. This gives me cause to think my colleagues in the House are beginning to think more concretely about the financial reforms I have been pushing for years. We’ll see.

Amendment 1-A is essentially our best, most prudent position in the upcoming conference committee negotiations with the Senate. It is a sound, forward-looking document that reflects well on the House of Representatives.