Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

A fairly productive week in the House of Representatives as we wade into the hearings and presentations that will guide the particulars of our budget preparation. One of the very few positive aspects of three years of serious budget reductions is the fact that we are getting better at doing more with less. Now that there is a little more revenue, I want to continue championing the frugality that began as necessity, and look at how we can keep the austerity mindset as we structure our finances.

We have an ally in this mission in Tony Keck, Director of Health and Human Services. Tony’s budget recommendations last week were a study in how we can take better care of our most vulnerable citizens while still holding the line on expenditures. His experience and creativity have made him a standout at HHS, not only for his ability to do more with less, but also in his judgment concerning what areas can be reduced with the least disruption to the client population.

Another matter that is of great concern to this representative has to do with the status of Highway 170 and Highway 278 in Beaufort County. In fact, for some time now, those roads and their respective futures have been in the top three topics of your emails and phone calls to my office. At this writing, my meetings with SCDOT and the Infrastructure Bank seem to be heading toward a very positive outcome. I don’t want to be too specific until we can be sure of our position. For now, let’s just say that the financial markets are such that bonding costs are at historic lows and contractors are certainly bidding as though they want to work for us. Stay tuned on this one.

For some time, I have been troubled by what appears to be our state’s sacrifice of any leverage we might have had relating to the creation of the Jasper Port, the competitiveness of the Port of Charleston, as well as the health of Savannah River. As a member of the Savannah Maritime Commission, tasked by the Speaker with protecting the interests of our state in all matters having to do with what happens on or about the tidal portion of the Savannah River, I was curious (to say the least) about the DHEC board’s reversal of staff findings on the potential dredging in the Savannah River. As a commissioner, it was somewhat disconcerting to read in the paper what had occurred in a half-hour board meeting in Greenville; reversing an eight-month-old decision made by environmental professionals after thousands of man-hours of study and many months of careful deliberation.
Apparently, my discomfort was shared by every other member of the House as well. After remarks by my friend, Jim Merrill (R-Daniel Island), the House voted unanimously to retroactively remove any authority on dredging from the DHEC board. For an appointed board to take such a decision without consultation with elected representatives of the people of South Carolina is not my kind of governance. This is especially egregious considering that currently one in five jobs in our state is related to ports activity, not to mention the fact that the bulk of the drinking water in Beaufort and Jasper counties comes from the Savannah River. Friends, I know that politics can be maddening at times, but this little episode makes the Manhattan $26 trinket deal look reasonable.