Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

My intention for this week was to talk about the good work accomplished by your delegation in the last session, as well as some of the wins for Beaufort and Jasper counties in the budget. Unfortunately, events seem to have taken over my plans, and in response, the good work and the local wins will wait another week or two.

The tragic cluster of traffic accidents on Highway 278 last week, along with the deaths and injuries, resulted in a ton of calls to my office. In turn, I spoke with the folks at the South Carolina Highway Patrol and asked for more of a presence in the area. I am certain that both Bluffton Police and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department are making every effort to keep traffic under control, but this time of year, that is a very tall order, made ever more difficult with the road construction and the high seasonal flow of vehicles to our beautiful part of the Lowcountry.

The horrific accidents also served to reinforce my disappointment with the number of dollars in the budget this year to help repair our crumbling roads and bridges. In Beaufort County, we not only raise much of our own funds to repair and expand our transportation infrastructure, your delegation has had remarkable success in adding to those dollars with increased funding from state and federal sources. Last year, we funneled more than $1 billion into road repair. While the estimated cost to bring our system up to “acceptable” is reliably estimated at $29 billion, I thought we made a pretty aggressive start. This year did little to build on that good start. The House appropriated a portion of state auto sales tax to roads and bridges, which would have produced at least $41 million. While not a massive investment relative to our need, it was, nonetheless, a continuation of our momentum in this area.

Unfortunately, as the budget moved to the Senate, the $41 million was reduced to $15 million, a large sum in absolute terms but paltry in road building terms.

Fixing our roads must be a top priority for the next legislative session, and I know my friend, Senator Tom Davis, agrees. It is unfortunate that the majority of Senator Davis’ colleagues cannot or will not understand that it is critical for the safety of our folks in South Carolina to have adequate and well-maintained roads and bridges. It is also critical for job creation, as well as for the millions of visitors who want to contribute to our local economies. Our regional competitors are far ahead of us in this forward-looking enterprise.

Finally, my biggest disappointment of the session was the governor’s veto of the $1.1 million appropriation for the renovation of the physical plant of the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. Those of you who follow this column know that the Waddell Center is the scientific engine that powers much of a billion dollar industry in our state. My friend Al Stokes and his crew do world class research on water quality and those things that are important to those who make their living fishing, or catering to fishermen and all those things that are involved with fishing, including boats, tackle, lodging, food, even real estate.

Our governor likes to tout the creation of jobs and prosperity. Why then would she veto crucial funding for an installation doing exactly that? Perhaps the optics of flying an entourage to Europe to chat with industry officials are superior to driving to Bluffton, having a great sandwich at the Sippin Cow, and visiting a productive state facility that is already supporting a huge number of jobs. I’m simply at a loss on this one.

You can be sure your legislator and your delegation are working the phones, calling in favors, and doing what needs to be done to overturn this irresponsible veto.