Thursday, March 14, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week, we finished up all the preliminaries to budget week, which will involve four fifteen-hour days beginning Tuesday of next week. This is the time when all the work in committee and subcommittee pays off. It is also the time when the carefully crafted coalitions and issue groups get to compete for inclusion in the final iteration of the House budget. It is also when experience and knowledge of the system really comes into play, especially for those of us who are conversant in the arcane particulars of the House rules and traditions.

Your delegation has strongly supported the equity funding for USCB and the other branches of the USC system. If we can hold it through to the House floor, my good friend Senator Tom Davis will shepherd it through the Senate side. This is one of our highest priorities and we will be vigilant and aggressive in its protection. Although the dollars currently in the budget represent only the beginning of true per-student parity, it is a good start and we will follow up in subsequent sessions until each student in the Beaufort County post-secondary regime will receive state support commensurate with every other student in the state.

We are also making the case for the Beaufort County and Sumter County Development Alliance. This is critical to allow both counties’ economic development efforts to move forward. There is some resistance to our rationale that both Beaufort and Sumter are military communities, with similar strengths and opportunities for businesses to locate in our areas. While we are not geographically contiguous, our similarities are a compelling argument for the approval of this development alliance.

What is in play here is the somewhat paradoxical situation of members trying to protect the interests and advantages of their home counties, regions or industries, while still holding the overall interests of the state paramount. There is a dynamic balance that may find our delegation in support of another delegation on a particular issue but opposed on others. Again, the importance of personal relationships and productive history comes into the matter.

Fortunately, there is one area of general agreement on the revenue side that will send an extra $80 million to the Department of Transportation for road maintenance. We voted 106-5 to dedicate the proceeds from the sales tax on vehicles to DOT. While the dollars in question seem like a substantial sum, in the context of our overall transportation deficits, which are something in the neighborhood of $30 billion, it is a drop in a very large bucket.

We expect that next week will see a large number of visitors from the home front up in Columbia for the budget finale. Last week, we had the Greater Island Committee from the Hilton Head, Bluffton and Sun City areas, which is always a good social time where a good bit of business also happens to transpire. One of those Greater Island Committee members in attendance was my long-time friend Joe Fragale, from Sun City. Joe, as many of you know, serves on the Human Affairs Commission, and does outstanding work in that regard. He is also known as a common-sense Republican who can always be counted on to help out when a phone bank needs organizing, or when volunteers need to be briefed, or any chore that just has to be done right. Joe is usually more action than talk, but when he does have something to say, this representative pays close attention.

Next week, there will be budget play-by-play and good local news.