Wednesday, July 17, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all who called or emailed comments, questions and suggestions on last week’s column. I am always gratified that so many folks out there are paying attention to what’s happening in our state and to the thoughts and information I share with you every week in this space. We have evolved a good working partnership that is greatly benefiting the residents of District 118.

I had several questions from people interested in possibly running for office. I am always excited by the prospect of having more folks involved in the political process, and running for elective office is the highest form of that involvement. That said, I would urge those with the desire to become involved to first volunteer for one of the many boards and commissions in need of serious and committed participants. Whether on the municipal, county, or state level, there are always a number of openings for those wishing to serve. Not only will you get valuable experience in the mechanics of government, your efforts will fill the important gap between professional staff and the elected decision-makers. For town boards, call the Town Secretary at the Town of Bluffton or Town of Hardeeville. For openings at Beaufort County or Jasper County, call the office of County Secretary. And for state openings, call my office at 757-7900. It may be the most important call you make this year.

The reason several of you wanted to talk about elective office was the debacle we experienced last time around when hundreds of qualified candidates were removed from the ballot. While anger is a legitimate reason to run for office, in my view, a better reason might be simply a willingness to serve your community. Also, no amount of anger will get you through a five-hour budget meeting.

Running on a platform of electoral reform might also be a little late in that early in the current session, we amended the process to eliminate the sources of miscommunication and ambiguity that were the cause of the unfortunate ballot removals. To that end, current law mandates that all the necessary filings and attestations and payment of necessary fees be done at specified government offices. The role of the parties is no longer required. In addition, statements of economic interest are no longer under election law, but are the province of ethics law, which is appropriate.

One of the big issues we are likely to face as we reconvene in January will be our glaring deficits in transportation infrastructure. Our roads and bridges have been neglected for so long, they have become an impediment to the pace of economic development, not to mention a source of potential peril to those who drive on those roads and bridges. Although our long-term infrastructure liability has been estimated at just shy of $30 billion, we managed to make a small down payment this session. It is also, in my view, a gesture of good faith and the seriousness with which we regard this problem.

We allocated $150 million toward transportation and infrastructure improvements--$100 million recurring and $50 million non-recurring. The House eliminated all the fees and taxes, both state and local, that were proposed by the Senate Finance Committee. The Department of Transportation (DOT) will use $50 million recurring General Funds to replace the supplemental funds that can be instead directed to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to bond $500 million for bridge and interstate projects. We have also directed half of the state sales tax on cars, some $83 million, to the maintenance and repair of secondary roads.

Relative to the very large $29 billion bucket, it’s only a drop, but it is a good beginning.