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House busy with budget, bills

Posted: February 24, 2012 11:30 a.m.
Updated: February 27, 2012 5:00 a.m.

This past week the House of Representatives returned to Columbia following a week of furlough. Each week the House takes on furlough saves the state $50,000. The House will take two more weeks of furlough in April. The House has repeatedly passed bills to shorten the legislative session only for them to die in the Senate. The House has taken upon itself to effectively shorten its session through furloughs because House members believe that we can accomplish our objectives in fewer weeks and save taxpayer money.

All eyes were on the House Ways and Means Committee last week as it completed its work on a $6.5 billion state general fund budget proposal. Several key components include a pay raise for state employees, increased education funding largely directed to an increase in teacher pay, additional money for road repairs, and $47 million in unemployment tax relief for employers. The budget bill is scheduled to be debated in the House the week of March 12th.

The Charleston Port received some good news this past week. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Work Plan for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2012 included $2.5 million for the continued work on the Charleston Harbor post-45-foot deepening project. This money will continue progress on the feasibility study that began last summer. In addition, President Obama’s 2013 Executive Budget included $3.549 million for the deepening project. This latest funding means that the federal government’s share of the study cost is now more than halfway funded.

The General Assembly remains steadfast in its commitment to the port’s competitive future. In its budget plan, the House Ways and Means Committee also committed $180 million to a reserve fund for the pre-construction engineering and design phase and the construction phase of the harbor deepening project. The entire project is estimated to cost around $300 million, with the federal government’s contribution expected to be $120 million. Gov. Haley is expected to veto the resolution that unanimously passed the General Assembly and disregards decisions made by DHEC since 2007 regarding the Savannah port issue that I discussed in last month’s column. It is also expected that the General Assembly will override this veto.

A bill that will allow Cassatt Water Company to convert to a public service district received a favorable report this week from the House Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee. I have sponsored this bill with co-sponsors Reps. Jay Lucas and Grady Brown. As a public service district, Cassatt Water Company will be able to issue its own bonds for necessary system upgrades and maintenance, saving customers approximately $10 million over the next 30 years in interest payments. In addition, as a public service district, Cassatt Water Company will be able to provide water service for any large industries that may want to locate in its service territory, which includes Exit 101. Its current legal status prevents it from doing so. This bill is now on the House calendar for debate next week.

I was delighted to be invited to participate in a press conference last week celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of the USA. The press conference also declared 2012 as the “Year of the Girl” and launched the “ToGetHerThere” initiative to create balanced leadership -- the equal representation of women in leadership positions in all sectors and levels of society -- in one generation. As one of only 16 women serving in the General Assembly and as the Chair of the Women’s Caucus, I congratulate the Girl Scouts on this bold effort that will have a positive effect nationwide, but especially in South Carolina where the number of women in elected office ranks among the lowest in the nation.

Also back on the House’s calendar is the Department of Administration bill, of which I am a co-sponsor, that the House passed last year. The Senate recently completed its work on the bill, which included a number of changes. The House must now decide if it wishes to concur with the Senate’s amendments. This bill represents the first major government restructuring since the early 1990’s when the cabinet form of government was established under Gov. Campbell. I look forward to completing work on this bill and other matters that will improve the economy and quality of life for the citizens of Kershaw County. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your representative in the S.C. House.

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