Monday, March 21, 2011

House completes budget on time

We finished the budget in record time. At least it was considerably faster than at any time in my legislative experience. I believe this was due mainly to the fact that we did such painstakingly detailed work in our committees and subcommittees, there was not that much to hash out in full debate.

We were able, as I related in previous columns, to fund a little more for schools and health and human services, as well as lessen the impact on many agencies by realigning and consolidating their functions to preserve critical staff and organizational memory.

Perhaps the best encapsulation of the most recent budget process came from Majority Leader Kenny Bingham in the final Ways and Means budget report: “This is the best budget we could put forward this year. We cut government but protected essential services by finding new efficiencies. We cut government jobs, and funded programs to create new jobs. This is a conservative budget we can be proud of.”
Two areas I’m sure to hear from you on are the arts and ETV. With regard to the arts, our area is a perfect example of a thriving arts community that seems to be flourishing with little or no help from the government. If I am mistaken, I want to hear from you. As for ETV, their mission will carry on with more of a market-based structure.

One of the pleasant surprises of this budget season is how quickly your delegation has come together into a cohesive and disciplined force on the floor of the house. There were a number of instances where legislative moves that would have disadvantaged our area were turned back as I challenged the member at the podium as Reps. Erickson and Patrick quickly rallied support among our friends. For example, there was a move by a group of smaller counties and municipalities to give themselves an unfair and disproportionate share of “Aid to Subdivisions.” That is money collected by the state and returned to counties, cities and towns according to census data. The folks from areas that have lost population sought to “soften the blow” by getting back much more than they were due. A quick and disciplined response from your delegation, in concert with our friends from Charleston, made short work of the measure.

Over the next few weeks, especially after I get more feedback from you, I’ll have more to say about the budget.

I want to congratulate Paulie’s Pizza and the entire Carrabba family for the tremendous award they received recently at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. The hometown Bluffton team won in the Best Traditional Pizza category against the best pie makers in the country. I know these folks, and they are fine people with a great business and a customer-centered attitude. They are located in Berkeley Place, near the Sea Turtle Cinema. It’s now official: the best pizza in the country is made in Bluffton.

You know, I constantly beat the drum for economic development in our state, county and district. We have had some good success with larger companies like CareCore, but frequently we overlook the economic impact of smaller, often family owned businesses. Paulie’s is a great example of how you build a business. Old Town Bluffton and the Promenade are areas where small businesses, many of them sole proprietorships, are doing well, creating jobs, and raising our economic numbers as well as our quality of life. Sometimes, we just need to celebrate our successes.