January 2020 Update
Last week, the General Assembly began the second part of its two-year session. We’ll be in session through the spring, working until May. We’ll be working to address legislation that didn’t pass last year, new issues that come up as well as the annual state budget.
Last week, Governor McMaster released an overview of his budget priorities. While the General Assembly is responsible for controlling the state’s finances, it’s important to consider what our state’s Chief Executive believes to be top financial priorities for operating state government. The Governor will go into greater detail during the State of the State address next week (January 22), where he is to speak about continued education reforms, cutting taxes and our state's economic growth. His plan will also include his ideas on using a portion of this year’s budget surplus to send back to hardworking taxpayers. I am confident that the House and the Governor will work together on moving South Carolina forward.
In addition to making the most of the opportunities presented by a booming economy, we are also challenged to keep on top of record-breaking population growth that taxes our schools, roads and public services.
In the 2010s, York County’s population grew by over 20%, much of that in and around Fort Mill. I wrote a budget proviso to create a school construction impact fee to enable schools to keep up with growth without having to resort to frequent property tax hikes and bond issues. That impact fee is current held up pending the outcome of a lawsuit brought by builder and realtor groups (even though I hear from many in both sectors who support the impact fee). I am keeping on top of this issue and will keep you informed.
Keeping our economy strong is important, as long as we work to ensure long-term stability and growth, instead of short-term fixes. In order for South Carolina to continue to prosper there are important reforms and legislation that need to be passed. Here are some of the issues we’ll be working on this year’s session:
This summer we traveled the state to talk with teachers about their concerns, ideas, and solutions for education reform. In total, we talked with more than 60 Teachers of the Year and have taken many of their ideas into consideration this year.
Members of the State House are joining the Governor in proposing a $3,000 across the board pay increase (7% pay raise) for teachers. We need to make a substantial investment in teacher salaries – and finally reach our goal of bringing SC teacher salaries above the southeastern average.
Bolstering our State’s Financial Reserves
Our reserve funds (currently $614 million) need to be higher because sooner or later, a recession will occur. We have to plan ahead to avoid painful cuts in state government that affect land hard on education and public safety agencies when the economy slows down.
Tax Reform and Rebates
The reason we ended fiscal year 2019 with a $1.9 billion surplus is because South Carolinians are successful. This amount of money is made up primarily of 2 consecutive fiscal cycles where the state did not spend all of the money it had available and an economy that continues to be stronger than expected.
We’ve never had more people living and working in SC, more individuals who are being successful in their jobs, and more companies earning and paying more to their employees. It’s our job to be good fiscal stewards to send some of this money back to the taxpayer so they can continue investing in our economy. The Governor's Executive Budget recommends a $100 per taxpayer rebate similar to last year's $50 per tax filing rebate.
Here are some specific things we’re working on right now in Columbia:
The House and Senate both passed a bill this week that will make daylight savings time permanent. By passing this legislation, South Carolina joins five other states who no longer want to change their clocks twice a year. This legislation will not go into effect until Congress passes their version of the bill and the President signs it into law.
Addressing Human Trafficking and Prostitution
The House passed a Senate bill on Thursday that strengthens human trafficking and prostitution related offenses in our state. The House added an amendment to directly address human trafficking laws by giving the Attorney General more tools to combat it among other things. Last year, South Carolina was considered the most improved state in the country in addressing human trafficking laws.
2020-2021 State Budget
Much of the legislative work since we returned last week has been House Ways and Means hearings on the state budget. Legislators on this committee are meeting to consider budget requests from various state agencies for this year’s budget. Legislators who aren’t on this committee, such as myself, attend these hearings to keep informed about these requests and sometimes provide testimony or advise members of the committee.
State Judicial Elections
Most of the state court offices in South Carolina, from Family Court to the Supreme Court, are filled by election by a joint session of members of both houses of the General Assembly. Judicial elections are held in early February every year and we’ll be hearing from several dozen candidates seeking to fill over a dozen judicial posts.
I know this is a lot for a single update but as we return to Columbia, there’s a lot to talk about. Of course if you have any concerns or questions, I’m always here for you!