Monday, March 28, 2011

Some equality returns to education funding

Bluffton Today

Traditionally, the first half of a legislative term is taken up with the budget. We are at that halfway point and the budget is complete. In the spirit of March Madness, we will structure this column as something of a “halftime report”.
The budget process, always competitive, was particularly fierce this year. After several down years and fairly drastic cuts, we were faced with delivering a spending plan without the extensive federal aid that somewhat softened the austerity in past years. Your representative and the Beaufort County delegation played a major role in the crafting of the document, and were successful in thwarting attempts to reinstitute parts of the older spending regime whereby we were disadvantaged, particularly in educational allocation. Not only did we increase overall education support, we placed Beaufort County in a position to get back more of what we send to Columbia for schools. To be clear, we are still a donor county, but our donor status is not nearly as egregious as in recent years. Even the casual observer couldn’t help but notice that your delegation has “raised its game”.
Even though we cut the overall balanced budget a staggering 4% after years of deep cuts, we managed to not only increase education, but we also protected core functions such as healthcare and law enforcement. We consolidated numerous agencies and realized savings by reducing overlaps and redundancies. We also moved the five divisions of the Budget and Control Board to a new Department of Administration.
One of the areas where I played a pivotal role, from a strategic subcommittee of Ways and Means, was in the renewed emphasis on job training and recruitment of businesses and industries to hire those trained workers. I will continue to make certain that we increase our efforts to link the required skills needed by business and industry with the training available in our vocational and community colleges.
In addition to strong budget work, we passed a resolution giving the voters the right to decide if the governor and the lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket, and whether the state superintendent of education should be appointed rather than elected. If approved by the senate, you will get the chance to decide these questions during the 2012 election.
Risking a failure of modesty, I want to say that the home team played a great first half. We put together a sound game plan and stuck with it. We played tenacious defense when required, and put up a lot of points. The second half will see a lot more individual effort as each member has projects to accomplish, but I am confident the teamwork and discipline we have developed will remain a dominant feature of our game.
Returning to local matters, I want to welcome Dr. Katherine Darling and the Darling Eye Center to Doctor’s Row in the Promenade and Old Town Bluffton. Dr. Darling has already become a member and contributor to the Old Town Merchant’s Society and looks to add greatly to the convenience and amenity of those living in the Old Town area. There is much to be said for having doctors within walking distance of home. In fact, if we walked to more of our appointments, fewer of those appointments would be with the doctor.