The 121st session of the South Carolina General Assembly wrapped up the vast majority of its work on Thursday (6/3).
Perhaps the most important matter was one the legislature tackles each year, the budget.
Last week, it agreed on a final budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
It includes more money for roads, without raising the gas tax.
The budget would take $200 million out of the general fund and use that to borrow more than $2 billion for roads.
It also will raise education spending by more than $200 million and provide teachers with a two percent pay raise.
The money in the budget will be for road and bridge repair and not for new infrastructure.
There is a lot more in the final budget, which is quite lengthy — more than 100 sections.
To read it, click here.
The General Assembly came up with more money for roads than what’s in the budget.
On the next-to-last day (6/1) the House agreed to a Senate plan that gives SCDOT more money.
At the center of the bill is using $200 million annually to allow for borrowing that Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley County) says “would provide $3.4 billion in construction and restoration funds that will be spread out over projects over a 10-year period.”
The bill also restructures the SCDOT with the idea that it would help take “politics” out of the equation when it comes to what projects get priority.
It gives the Governor the power to appoint all eight DOT commissioners, with input from lawmakers and approval of the Senate.
The commission will then hire the DOT secretary.
To read this bill, which is also long, click here.
Through Thursday (6/2) the Governor had vetoed four bills.
She’s lost three.
As we detailed here two weeks ago, two of those were (1) a bill to aid farmers hurt by the October floods and (2) and a bill to loosen certain certain requirements to dispense eye glasses and/or contact lenses.
Last week, she lost a third veto.
That one concerned a bill that called for the renewal of what many call the “tourism development tax.”
Under the bill, a municipality located in a county where revenue from the state accommodations tax is at least $14 million in a fiscal year can impose the tax.
Right now, Horry County is the only county that fits that description and Myrtle Beach is the only place in the county that imposes the fee.
Between four and 20 percent of that tax can go to property tax relief but at least 80 percent must go to tourism marketing and promotion.
Gov. Haley opposes the bill because, she said, it does not let taxpayers decide how to spend the money.
“You never open that door,” Governor Haley said. “It’s wrong to the taxpayers. They shouldn’t have done it. They’re selling it as tax relief when it’s actually 80% going to tourism. It’s wrong in every way.”
Lawmakers didn’t see it that way, and easily overrode the Governor’s veto.
However, Ms. Haley did win one veto.
That bill would have exempted teacher evaluations from public disclosure.
The Governor says she doesn’t necessarily oppose the intent of the bill but she called it “too expansive” and said districts could conceivably use it to withhold any record related to an evaluation, which includes information on teacher misconduct.
The Governor says she’ll work with the bill’s sponsor and Education Superintendent Molly Spearman to help draft a better bill.
Evidently, enough lawmakers agreed with the Governor because the House voted unanimously to sustain the veto.
South Carolina’s primaries for all state House and Senate seats (and many local races) take place on June 14.
State constitutional offices, including Governor, are not up this year.
Governor Haley can’t, by law, run for a third term in 2018 but she was busy on the campaign trail last week, stumping against incumbent Republicans.
She concentrated in our area.
On Tuesday (5/31), the Governor spoke in Pawleys Island in support of Senate District 34 candidate Reese Boyd of Murrells Inlet.
Gov. Haley wasted no words in her support for Boyd and her lack of support for Goldfinch.
She called Boyd, who is an attorney, a “fighter” and a “conservative reformer,” adding she was once a strong supporter of Goldfinch but now says she’s “never been more disappointed in a legislator.”
She said Goldfinch has “made terrible votes from tax increases to increasing his pay by 53% to overruling my work place initiatives. I mean, anything that we’ve wanted, he’s sided with leadership and democrats of the old guard.”
On Wednesday, the Governor took aim at 36-year veteran state Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-District 31 / Florence).
The Governor officially endorsed Richard Skipper for that seat.
Skipper is the former chair of the Florence County Republican Party.
The Governor said she supports Skipper in part because “he’ll fight to get reforms done and he believes in transparency and he believes in showing everybody everything. you’re not getting that right now in Florence.”
That’s obviously a direct slam on Leatherman, with whom Haley has clashed on some issues in recent years.
That includes the Pamplico Highway widening project, which Ms. Haley called a “pet project,” but which Leatherman says is needed.
Leatherman maintains he looks after the people of his district and in a statement, Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone, who supports Leatherman, said in part, Governor Haley’s “decision to come to Florence County, attack Senator Leatherman and tell us how to vote is insulting.”
Florence County Treasurer Dean Fowler also runs.
Rankin chairs the Senate Ethics Committee and he and Haley have clashed somewhat over ethics reform.
Governor Haley will undoubtedly issue more vetoes and lawmakers are set to go back to address those on June 15.
Next week, we’ll look at the status of some of the bills we’ve focused on in this column in recent months.