Thursday, March 21, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

As promised, what follows is a survey of the highlights of budget week. I apologize for not returning emails as promptly as I usually do, but we were on the floor for 12 to 14 hours each day this week. I will begin to whittle down the communication backlog as soon as I recover a bit.

Starting with the good news: We have made the first step toward true per-student parity for our local college branch, USCB. In a concerted effort, our budget contains provision for our local students to be supported on a par with each of the other branches of the system. No one could make a case for why our local students were less worthy of support than at other branches. While I was happy to lead the charge, much credit goes to my Ways and Means colleagues, our united delegation, and especially to the persistent efforts of USCB Chancellor, Dr. Jane Upshaw, and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Lynn McGee.

While redistricting has placed the Waddell Mariculture Center in the district of my friend and colleague, Rep. Weston Newton, for many years it was a special project of mine. They do such great work with so few resources, but they had essentially come to the end of their creativity in keeping up the facility and still managing to accomplish their day-to-day mission. Al Stokes and his dedicated crew now have an appropriation in our budget for doing long deferred maintenance, in addition to the modest yearly line-item that forms the basis of their operational funding.

While I will continue to have a role in the protection and possible expansion of Waddell, rest assured that Rep. Newton has long history and appreciation for the work of these good folks, and will give them his utmost attention.

The big fight this week was over Obamacare. I have heard from you loud and clear on this, as have the majority of my legislative compatriots. You have expressed an unwillingness to abdicate responsibility for the health care of your state to the federal government. The raw numbers are simply astounding. Our budget is something in the neighborhood of $6.3 billion. The proposed expansion of Medicaid would grow our budget by $12 billion. You didn’t want it, we didn’t want it, and it won’t happen.

My friends across the aisle had heard pretty much the same thing from their constituents as we had heard from ours, so they proposed a compromise where we give it a try for a few years and see what happens. This was an idea that was soundly and definitively rejected. President Reagan once said “Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life that we well see on this earth.”

We will provide health care for those who are needy. I, and some colleagues on Health and Human Services Committee, proposed an alternative to the expansion of Medicaid where we provide funding for hospitals to steer the uninsured away from their emergency rooms, when used for non-emergency care. They will be treated at free clinics, such as Volunteers in Medicine on Hilton Head and Bluffton. We will also provide substantial dollars to the state’s twenty federally qualified health clinics to treat more patients. We have allocated sufficient funding to allow this combination of care providers to make certain no one is untreated, but without the extravagant costs associated with emergency rooms and similar settings.

In short, the House budget grew by 2.68%, which is within the “population plus inflation” benchmark. This will adequately fund the state government, while expanding health care access across the state, especially for children, the elderly, and pregnant women.