Last week was our second full week of work in Columbia. Believe it or not, there was a lot accomplished in committees and this week we should begin floor debate on several ethics bills.
Finding additional money to repair South Carolina’s deteriorating roads was the major focus at the Statehouse last week.
Governor Tackles Roads & Taxes
In her State of the State address Gov. Nikki Haley offered her three pronged solution to paying for road and bridge improvements. The governor proposed raising SC’s 16.5-cents per-gallon gas tax, but only if it were coupled with other reforms.
“Let’s increase the gas tax by 10 cents over the next three years and let’s dedicate that money entirely towards improving our roads,” she said. “That will keep our gas tax below both Georgia and North Carolina. And we can do it without harming our economy.”
But her caveat made it clear she would not support the increase unless it also came with the following:
- a nearly 30% reduction in the current top rate for the state income tax from 7% to 5%
- the elimination of the current SC Transportation Commission, an eight member board appointed largely by the legislature that approves all road projects in South Carolina.
The fiscal impact analysis from the nonpartisan state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs estimates that the 10-cent increase would raise nearly $3 billion in additional revenue over the next decade. She additionally proposed to convert the vehicle sales tax solely for road improvements. The House will be running the numbers in order to verify the accuracy of the additional income.
The Governor’s plan was a big step forward. Now that many options are on the table the General Assembly will be able to calculate the best fix to this complex and expensive funding challenge to fix our roads. I join many legislators in working with Gov. Haley to find responsible solutions to the infrastructure challenges we face.
The governor also introduced a new proposal that would offer jobs skills training to help employees land jobs at small businesses and medium-sized companies. The initiative, known as ‘Succeed SC’ is patterned after the ‘ReadySC’ program which currently offers job training programs for large corporations such as Boeing and BMW.
Improving Public Education
We have a teacher shortage in SC. We are currently graduating half the number of new teachers that are needed each year while veteran teachers are retiring in increasing numbers.
In her State of the State address, Gov. Haley called for a number of steps to improve teacher quality and recruitment in rural schools. Her proposed ‘Homegrown Teacher Initiative’ offers high-school students, who graduate from eligible districts, four years of subsidized tuition at any public SC college or university in exchange for not less than two years of teaching in their home district or another eligible district. Another is the ‘Enhanced Student Loan Repayment’ in which eligible teachers receive up to $7,500 per year in direct student loan repayment in exchange for one year of teaching in an eligible district for up to five years. Steps like these are essential to stem our current teacher shortage.
Ethics Reform Advanced
Last week the House advanced legislation to reform our state’s ethics laws that affects all 20,000 elected and appointed official in the state. An income disclosure measure that is part of a larger sweeping ethics reform package cleared its first hurdle in a House subcommittee and moves to the full House Judiciary Committee. Income disclosure is the start to increasing confidence of public officials at all levels. The goal of the legislation is to eliminate the possibility that elected officials or their immediate family are using the elected position for personal gain.
A House subcommittee advanced a bill that would ban abortions after 19 weeks. The current ban starts at 23 weeks.
After hours of heated debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to bar any individuals convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns for up to 10 years.
However, the House Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence passed a bill to the Judiciary Committee that is more comprehensive and reflects Penalties, Social Issues, Education and Bond reform. This bill should be debated in the in the Criminal Laws subcommittee next week. I will keep you informed on the progress.
Thanks to the SC Chamber of Commerce for recognizing me with their ‘Business Advocate Award’ for my 100% pro-business voting record last year. This is my 2nd consecutive ‘Copper Dome’ award for standing in favor of economic development and job creation.
Photos of the week!
Both teams were honored last week by the House of Representatives for their outstanding accomplishments. Congratulations!