This week we started our sessions on Monday so that we can get to work on the budget. A lot of work has been done so far. As of Tuesday evening late we have had our second reading of the budget with the third and final reading and vote Wednesday morning. As long as no road blocks are put in front of us we should have the House version of the budget to the Senate by Wednesday afternoon. This is the fastest that the house has put together a budget bill in many years.
Last week we passed The Spending Cap Bill (H-3368) limiting how much the state can spend. Letting people spend their own hard-earned dollars and ensuring government serves the people by getting out of our way, is something in which I truly believe. We should do all we can to limit the size of government. The House took a concrete step to ensure our state government does not grow faster than our wallet, but this legislation still has a long way to go. This is the eighth time since 1994 the House Republicans have sent a bill like this to the State Senate and none of them have ever made it out. Let's hope that this time we will see some positive action.
The Spending Cap Bill (H-3368) is a critical part of our conservative commitment to restrain the growth of government in the face of a growing number of formulas that force spending. If we do not follow a path of fiscal responsibility when times are good, we will be much worse off when we have economic trouble. We are witnessing that right now as we are forced to slash budgets artificially inflated by tax revenues collected during good times. As state tax revenues have fallen over the last several years, South Carolina has made a concerted effort to cut the size of government rather than increase taxes on citizens – as was done in several of our neighboring states. That process has continued this week as we debate the budget.
In future years, I hope these spending limits will ensure budget cuts will not be as severe as those we have witnessed over the past three years.
I hope that you find this weeks update helpful and informative:
The Spending Cap Bill:
The legislation (H-3368) passed this week uses February 15, 2010 as the base and restricts future growth to the LESSER of 6 percent growth, or population growth plus the Consumer Price Index (a common measure of inflation). In addition, the bill allows the General Assembly to declare an emergency and suspend the restrictions with a vote of two-thirds of those present. According to the most recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states operate under spending or revenue limits. The bill also creates a “Spending Limits Reserve Fund,” and requires funds in excess of the spending limit to be appropriated for replenishing the General Reserve Fund, temporary tax reductions, infrastructure, school buildings, school buses, and then expenses for natural disasters.
These spending limits are reasonable and give the General Assembly plenty of room to maneuver should there be a major crisis – like another Hurricane Hugo or terrorist attack – that would require us to marshal our state’s resources to respond. But it also ensures that when state tax revenues start expanding again, it will either be refunded to the people who earned it, or pay for crucial infrastructure, education, and public safety projects that will help expand our economy.
Tax Payer Fairness Act:
This bill (H-3419) states that the South Carolina Department of Revenue must interpret tax statutes of this State fairly and the terms in the tax statutes may not be given broader meaning than intended by policy documents and regulations of the department of revenue. Ambiguity in tax statutes must be resolved in favor of the taxpayer.
Aiken Schools May Benefit:
Bill (H-3716) proposes to update the formula used to fund public schools. This bill would provide more money for the poor and those learning English. The bill will not cost the state additional money since it shifts money from counties who receive less or more based on the new formula. Aiken County could receive an additional $2 million more each year. I will keep my eye on this and keep you updated in the future.
Performance Pay for Teachers:
This same school funding bill (H-3716) takes a close look at a pay-for-performance system for teachers. The state Department of Education (DOE) is charged to look into ways teachers are paid. Backers hope a change would include additional pay for teachers who achieve higher performance results. As you might expect, merit pay for teachers is a highly controversial measure because of the complexity of determining student progress. This bill calls for an Advisory Panel consisting of teacher groups to assist the DOE in formulating a plan by the end of this year. That plan would be considered by the legislature next year.
School Choice Bill:
A House Education Subcommittee heard from advocates on the Educational Opportunity Act (H-3407) for the first time. They explained that this is not the same system that has been called the voucher system. It is actually a tax credit giving parents a choice where they would like to send their children to school. The bill is designed to give parents who can't afford private school more of a choice. Scholarships will also be offered in the program. Visit the www.scrgov.org site for more information on this approach to School Choice. Click Here for a summary and Click Here for a FAQ about the tax credit approach.
School Bond Elections:
A bill (H-3041) to make sure a School Bond Election will be held on the date of a general election or on the date of a primary election was passed. Your Aiken Legislative Delegation spearheaded this bill that won unanimous approval in the House last week. If you remember we were asked to vote in a separate election on a School Bond Referendum just two weeks before a primary election. This bill will increase voter turn out and save money.
The "Card Check" Constitutional Amendment Update:
The voters of SC approved this Amendment with 86% of the vote in favor of a secret ballot in union elections. Both the House and Senate have ratified the voters decision. Each version has been approved and the Amendment will be sent to the Governor's desk for her signature.This is the Amendment that the Federal National Labor Relations Board threatened to sue South Carolina over.
SRS H Canyon:
The Governor's Nuclear Advisory Committee met yesterday at the State House with officials from DOE, SRNS, and Savannah River Remediation. The focus was H-Canyon and convincing the federal government not to eliminate $100m in funding for this critical SRS project. To learn more about H Canyon, here are two links:
Term Limits for Trustees:
Bill (H-3884) requires that members of State-supported College and University Boards of Trustees who are elected by the General Assembly or appointed by the Governor may serve no more than two full four-year terms. The two-term limit does not apply to years served by a member in which he fulfills the remainder of an unexpired term for another member. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor and applies to all members elected by the General Assembly or appointed by the Governor after the effective date of this act.
Liquor Bill Modified:
This bill (H-3249) will allow you to transport open containers of liquor as long as it is not accessable to the driver or passengers' compartments. It must be in a luggage compartment or cargo area that is distinct from the driver's and passengers' compartments. You no longer face the loss of a license or vehicle seized if you are transporting open containers of hard liquor. This bill modified a law that was designed to punish bootleggers. The bill brings the punishment in line with beer and wine.
A house resolution (H-3876) to declare Wednesday, March 9, 2011, as "South Carolina Recyclers Day" and to commend and recognize South Carolina's recyclers for their contributions to our State's economy and for their efforts to protect the environment and promote energy efficiency. The recycling industry is directly responsible for more than 37,440 jobs, $1.5 billion in annual personal income, and an estimated $69 million in tax revenue each year. There is over $438 million in capital investment coming from this sector of our economy. The recycling industry has been responsible for the creation of 1,130 new jobs, with twenty-eight new or existing companies investing in the State in 2010. The recycling industry is comprised of haulers, collectors, processors, brokers, recycling equipment sales and manufacturers, and end-users, or manufacturers who use recycled-material feedstock and make recycled-content products..
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Thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please don't hesitate to contact me at Home at 803-278-0892 or at work 803-279-8855.
Representative Bill Hixon – SC House of Representative – District 83