As of last week, the budget is in the hands of the Senate, to be scrutinized and amended as they see fit. As an integral part of the initial budget writing process, I will be kept in the loop regarding proposed changes. Sometimes, a few off-line conversations between House and Senate budget writers can smooth over issues that might otherwise prove contentious in the reconciliation phase.
A few of the items I think will not change are those having to do with the dollars coming to Highways 170 and 278, as well as for May River water quality and Hope Haven Rape Crisis Center. Also safe, in my view, are the changes in the Education Finance Act (EFA) formulas that will increase the state participation in the cost of our local schools. These were matters that were hashed out early in the process in conversations that included key members of Senate.
In the education vein, I was pleased that the School Choice Bill passed this week. There is a bit of confusion regarding my support of school choice in general, as well as this particular bill. My school choice support is not based on any perception of inadequacy on the part of our local school district. I think they do a tremendous job under somewhat difficult circumstances. As the recent awards indicate, our local schools and the teachers that power them are among the best in the state. However, some areas of our state are not blessed with what we in Beaufort County enjoy as far as our schools are concerned. In my view, parents in those parts of the state should receive tax relief when they must seek out alternative education for their children. I think it is a matter of basic fairness.
Also, a very hotly contested bill passed Thursday. It says that if you are receiving unemployment benefits, are offered a job, and fail the drug screen that might be a term of your potential employment, then your unemployment benefits are curtailed. The inability to pass a drug test speaks directly to ones availability for employment. On the face of it, the measure seems draconian, but upon closer review, it not only supports employer’s desire for drug-free workplaces, but also saves the cost of referring the applicant for the job, the interview costs, and gives a relative leg up to those job seekers who are more motivated and ready for responsible employment. In truth, I was initially skeptical of this area of potential labor law. However, when asked to make a case against the bill, I could not.
We will be on furlough for the next two weeks as the Senate works through the budget. It will save the state a few dollars, although those of us in leadership will continue pretty much on the job. For this representative, being available to consult with Senate colleagues during the furlough pays a dividend in cooperation and clarity of intent.
Once again, our constituent contacts were in the range above 300 for the week. As always, we appreciate and enjoy your comments and concerns. We are grateful for your kind words, and take to heart those instances when you feel we have fallen short of the mark. The important thing is that the conversation continues.