Monday, February 27, 2012

From The House

Bluffton Today

We hit the budget a good lick last week, beginning early on Monday morning and continuing well into Thursday evening. In all modesty, this budget will reflect well on the needs of District 118 and Beaufort County. We are still one of the “donor” districts, but much closer to parity than at any time in my decade as your representative in Columbia.

In last week’s column, I detailed our success at the Infrastructure Bank, securing nearly $25 million for the Highway 170 project. The relentlessness of County Council Chairman Weston Newton, combined with a united, active delegation produced a big win for the home team. I also believe we will see additional state support for our productive post-secondary educational treasures, USCB and TCL, as well as for the Rape Crisis Center and the May River water quality effort. There are also likely to be additional dollars for the Heyward House in Old Town Bluffton.

Next week, we are going to take up funding for the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. For too many years, my friend Al Stokes, Waddell Center manager, held that place together with spit and chewing gum while doing world-class research into how we can make out local waters produce more and higher quality fish, shrimp, and crabs. In the last few years, we have been able to make our case that the Mariculture Center was a tremendous investment, returning huge benefit for each dollar spent. Consequently, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hearings before the different committees and subcommittees that oversee this installation are more about “what do you need to better accomplish your mission?” and less about “how can we shut you down?” Kudos to Al Stokes and crew, Friends of Waddell, Hilton Head Sportfishing Club President Dave Harter and many others for supporting this excellent DNR research facility while we in Columbia got up to speed on this unique asset.

The budget process is extremely detailed and somewhat tedious, because we look at literally every penny of tax money, your tax money, that comes to the state. We make certain that what we have is divided fairly and buys the maximum value in goods and services that are required to serve the need of the citizens. When I speak of bringing more of those dollars back to District 118 and Beaufort County, this is not pork, it is what is required to educate our children, take care of our most vulnerable folks, provide a certain level of transportation infrastructure, and do all the other things we have agreed the state needs to do. What I have tried to do since my first day in the legislature is reduce your overall state taxes, which we have done, and increase the percentage of our tax dollars returning to Beaufort County. We are a relatively wealthy area, so we will likely remain a donor county. Parity is a worthy goal even if we are unlikely to see it.

Finally, after talking about what we are doing for you, let me say a few words about what you can do to help make our system function properly. Volunteer. If you have few hours a week, or a month, call the office and let us know what your interests are. We will help find you a board or commission that needs you. That goes for the county or the municipalities as well. They need you. You help keep the system grounded. A great example is the recently retired Elections Commissioner, Norma Stewart. She did great work in an area that needed improvement. You too, can make a difference.

Next week, more budget. Also, a little inside baseball about how District 118 is reducing its donor status.