Sunday, March 11, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

It has been a busy couple of weeks at the statehouse. We completed initial work on the budget, which is now in distribution, both physically and on the Internet. While amendments and commentary are being researched and refined, we are carrying on with the people’s business.

The House and the Senate overrode the governor’s veto of H.4627, which was the joint resolution unanimously passed by both the House and Senate, retroactively removing authority from the DHEC board to approve an application by the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Savannah River. This action, prompted by the governor for purposes of her own, overruled countless hours of DHEC staff work pursued to determine if such dredging should take place, and if so, what mitigation might be required. The process was lengthy, detailed, and made use of some of the top scientists in the state. Their work indicated that the dredging, if done as proposed, would have serious environmental consequences, especially on the South Carolina side of the river.

It took the governor and her recently appointed majority on the DHEC board a mere fifteen minutes to approve the Corps of Engineers dredging application, to universal approval—in Georgia. Amazingly enough, part of the proposed plan involving placing spoil from the dredging on the site of the long-awaited Jasper Port. As a member of the bi-state commission tasked with overseeing activity in the navigable waters shared by South Carolina and Georgia, I was disappointed, to say the least. At this point, it looks like the courts will sort it out.

We are also working on the restructuring issue. There is no doubt that our state government needs to be reconfigured so that it is not so dominated by the legislative branch. Ironically, one of the reasons our constitution created such a strong legislature was that we were, in 1895, enduring the aftermath of reconstruction and there was fear that a powerful executive might abuse those powers. Obviously, there is a cost in efficiency and flexibility for our antiquated system, but reform is hard when the executive seems to be acting recklessly, or at least imprudently. However, the recently passed Senate version needs work. It is simply too diluted to qualify as reform.

One of the areas where we are attempted real reform is with school choice. Last year, my school choice bill was defeated in a procedural move that didn’t allow a vote on the merits of the bill. This year, we are back with another bill that seeks to accomplish much of what was in the previous measure. Among other things, I believe that folks who either home-school or send their children to independent schools and pay out of pocket, deserve a tax deduction, if they are in certain tax brackets.

In my view, this is a matter of simple fairness. You apparently agree, as my mail on this topic has historically run about 10-to-1 in favor. Last week, we set a new record for constituent contacts with 528 emails, calls and notes. Most were on the dredging and restructuring, but of those on the school choice issue, the usual ratio was observed.

Constant readers of this column know that I prefer to be positive if at all possible, but sometimes I just have to be candid and let the chips fall where they may. Such is the case with this dredging thing. It is simply too important to be treated so casually.