Thursday, February 21, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last Friday, the Old Town Merchant’s put on their Winter Art Walk. Not surprisingly, it was a big hit, not only with Bluffton, Sun City and Hilton Head folks, but there was a large contingent of visitors from all over. The word is spreading about our not-so-little town.

The two proposals I floated in the last few weeks are creating quite a stir. The user fee proposal for roads and bridges is an idea whose time has come. Not only has my mail been running strongly in favor, but editorial boards across the region are beating the drum for this and other similar common sense measures. As we have been building infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan, ours is crumbling. Most people seem to get the fundamental difference between profligate spending and necessary investment in the critical needs of our country.

As to my proposal to address the obvious unfairness of the Act 388 placement of the burden of school taxes on businesses and non-resident homeowners, we have gotten a ton of mail in favor of not only the basic idea but also the opt-in feature as well. Nobody likes taxation, but unfair taxation tends to also undermine the faith we must have in our system to get voluntary payment compliance across the board. I believe we are crafting a bill that will address our school needs fairly and spread the burden across the widest possible spectrum of taxpayers. I am cognizant that sales tax is regressive and hits those at the lower end of the economic scale disproportionately, but that is offset by the fact that much of the sales tax is paid by visitors. No system is perfect, but on balance, this is pretty good.

At the risk of speaking a little too much “inside baseball” about how the legislative system works, I want to relate a bit about “provisos” and the Provisos Subcommittee. Provisos are essential spending or directive measures that unless renewed, have a life of one fiscal year. They are useful for, among other things, spending nonrecurring dollars and temporarily mending funding oversights until a more comprehensive solution is created. Your legislator is chairman of the Provisos Subcommittee of Ways and Means. This is important even beyond the particulars of actual provisos, in that all the other subcommittee chairman are also on this subcommittee. This forum tends to look over the spending themes of the committee as a whole and looks out for the state, but allows the chairman some discretion.

One of the matters taken up last week in Provisos Subcommittee had to do with the funding parity of all the USC branches, including our USCB. We have agreed to treat each branch equally, which is a good start and will have the effect of making whole our local university, at least partially. My goal is to define parity not as “per branch” but as “per student” which is fair. If all the branches receive the same dollars and USCB has twice as many students as another branch, we are still not at parity, as far as I am concerned.

Also, we passed a measure in Provisos allowing Beaufort County and Sumter County to form their own economic alliance. With the withdrawal of Jasper County from our former economic alliance, we needed another county with whom to partner. Beaufort and Sumter have a lot in common, especially our military base status, and we needed to get this done to keep our economic development efforts on track. This was a delegation priority and we have every expectation this proviso will stand up in the senate with the help of Senators Tom Davis and Chip Campsen.