Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Even though we were technically on furlough from the House last week, there was a lot happening both on the legislative and home fronts.

We were certainly happy to host a fine group of student leaders from M.C. Riley Elementary School week before last. We were able to offer a guided tour as well as a DVD on the history and architecture of our statehouse. It was particularly impressive that these members of the Student Council had conducted fundraisers to underwrite their field trip. That sort of self-reliance is a value that enhances the traditional academic role played by our fine schools.

Also in the education area, we had USC Day, with a fine complement of student leaders from USCB. They were in Columbia with my friends Chancellor Jane Upshaw and USCB Development Director Lynn McGee. They were kind enough to present your representative with an honorary Alumnus Award for my efforts on behalf of USCB. In truth, it has been a pleasure working with USCB, with Dr. Upshaw and local USC board members Wes Jones, of Bluffton, and Miles Loadholt, a part-time Bluffton resident.

I have seen first-hand how having a four-year baccalaureate-granting university in our community has been life changing for so many of our residents who might not have had the opportunity to achieve the dream of a college degree without our hometown university. The possibilities are currently being expanded as the university roles out more online and other distance learning features to better serve our people and our state.

We also got another heart-warming award last week. This time it was from Chief Executive Officer Roland Gardner and the board of the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services. These good folks are responsible for providing excellent, accessible and affordable health care across a wide range of need to a previously underserved population in the Lowcountry. I appreciate their recognition, but it is we who owe them an ongoing debt of gratitude for their great work.

Finally, there is good news for those of us traveling the Highway 170 corridor beside Sun City. It was announced that almost $25 million will go toward improving this busy highway. I had mentioned this in previous columns but didn’t want to announce until all the details were worked out and we were certain of the outcome. While your representative has worked on this for a number of years, the lions share of the credit goes to my good friend and Chairman of Beaufort County Council, Weston Newton.

Chairman Newton has been relentless in pursuing transportation dollars for our area for many years, including numerous trips to Washington to involve our federal delegation when appropriate. Most recently, Chairman Newton and I, along with Senator Chip Campsen (R-Isle of Palms) met with the board of the State Infrastructure Bank last December to renew our 2008 application from Beaufort County for dollars to address the Highway 170 situation. A part of our case involved your many letters and emails requesting relief from the dangerous condition of this highway.

While these funds will expand and improve the safety of 170, it also gives the county some flexibility with the completion of the Bluffton Parkway. This is also great news for our penny sales tax for roads, which has fallen somewhat short due to the Great Recession. It is my hope that we can now complete the sales tax project list without an extension of this penny sales tax. Our self-reliance, much like that of the M.C. Riley Student Council, has proven beneficial in more ways than just the obvious.