Wednesday, February 27, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The budget process so far has been good to Beaufort County. During the accountability portion of the budget, we put together a full court press involving the entire delegation for the benefit of USCB funding parity. At this point, we have $1.2 million going toward bringing our local university branch up to parity with the other branches around the state. While this is far from true parity, it is a good faith start on what may be a multi-year project.

My sincerest thanks go to Dr. Jane Upshaw, Chancellor of USCB and Dr. Lynn McGee, Vice Chancellor, for their tireless efforts in this worthy cause. We also had good work from my delegation colleagues, Rep. Shannon Erickson, Rep. Andy Patrick, and Rep. Weston Newton. We are also grateful to my friend, Rep. Chip Limehouse, Chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee of Ways and Means for his help in the current appropriation and his commitment to aid in future efforts to bring parity, not only to USCB, but to all the branches of USC. This is another example of the increasing level of influence the Beaufort/Jasper Delegation brings to the General Assembly.

Over the years, readers of this column have heard much about the great work done by my friend, Al Stokes, and his colleagues at the Waddell Mariculture Center at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton. Somehow, they have managed to do cutting edge science in the environmental area, as well as maintain and expand a very successful game fish stocking program in support of the local sportfishing industry, all the while keeping the facility going with baling wire and duct tape. This year, the House budget has close to a million dollars for Waddell to do long-overdue repairs and renovation to the facility.

Due to redistricting, the Waddell Center is no longer in District 118. However, it is now in District 120, which is represented by my good friend and fellow Waddell supporter, Rep. Weston Newton. Having been a strong water quality advocate for 13 years on Beaufort County Council, Weston certainly “gets it” when it comes to the huge contribution that Al Stokes and friends have made to the local economy, as well as the local ecology.

Also, we continue getting much comment on the proposal to repair the obviously unfair treatment of the 6 percent property owners with a sales tax swap, as was the original plan for the now much-maligned Act 388. The two features of the proposal that are most important are the fact that it is done by referendum, and that the extra penny of sales tax is a tax swap, not a new tax. We are replacing the unfair and job killing part of Act 388 with a sales tax for school operations. We will likely raise more dollars for the schools because of the visitor portion of the sales tax, and we remove a serious flaw in our revenue regime.

The obvious question is why doesn’t the delegation simply fix Act 388 instead of going through all this extra effort. Believe me, we have tried to do exactly that with very little support. In areas where real estate is not a significant portion of the economy, Act 388 is popular with homeowners for obvious reasons. They also don’t experience the unfairness of investment and our-of-state property owners being stuck with paying for something from which they receive little benefit. Thus, the proposal is an opt-in fix for those areas of the state where the fix is appropriate. Again, this is far from perfect, but simply less egregious than the current law.