(Published in the Daily Journal)
By Bill Sandifer
After the legislature officially adjourned in mid-June, we returned to Columbia for a “sine die” session to address the governor’s budget vetoes and a few other pieces of unfinished business.
In total, the Senate and House sustained $2.7 million of Governor Haley’s $18 million in vetoes in the State’s $7 billion budget. This budget determines how your hard-earned tax dollars are used. . I can’t tell you how seriously my colleagues and I take this process. Throughout it, we work to keep in mind that this is your money and not the government’s.
Some of the highlights in the final 2014-2015 state budget include:
• $180 million in new funding for K-12 education.
• $18.6 million in recurring funds is used to expand the state’s four-year-old kindergarten program for students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
• $29.5 million is included to provide for reading coaches in the state’s elementary schools. $4.5 million is devoted to expanding summer reading camps.
• $29.3 million is included for a K-12 technology initiative.
• $18 million for new school buses.
• Full funding is provided for the LIFE, HOPE, and Palmetto Fellows higher education scholarship programs.
• $2.5 million is included for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Education to address workforce demands.
• $15.2 million for Technical College initiatives including worker training.
• $37.4 million to help the Department of Commerce recruit new business to the state.
• Funding for rural infrastructure grants.
• Increased funding is provided for two port development initiatives in Georgetown and Jasper Counties.
• A 2 percent state employee pay increase.
• $447.3 million fully funds the reserve accounts that the state uses to cope with revenue shortfalls.
• $10.4 million is provided for implementing statewide information technology security upgrades.
• Funding to help foster care families and $2 million for the Lieutenant Governor’s office to provide respite services for elderly caregivers.
• Funding for new law enforcement officers.
• $3.9 million is included for capital projects at State Parks.
• $2 million for youth sports programs.
To view the full budget, including how the House and Senate voted on the governor’s vetoes, I encourage you to visit www.scstatehouse.gov and search the bill numbers which are 4701 and 4702.
While we were able to finalize the state budget, an agreement couldn’t be reached between the House and Senate on a bill allowing the College of Charleston to become a research university. Several legislators expressed opposition on the issue because they believed there was not enough time this year for careful evaluation, not necessarily because they opposed the research designation. I believe we may see this issue come up again in the near future.
Another area where final agreement was not reached was on ethics reform, which died in the Senate on the final day of the special session. I believe it’s important that we raise standards of accountability for all of our elected and appointed officials increase public trust and am hopeful that we will see real ethics reform introduced again next year.
The Senate also addressed leadership changes. Sen. Yancey McGill was chosen to become the state’s Lieutenant Governor. He is the first Democrat elected to statewide office in three years and he is well respected on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Hugh Leatherman from Florence was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
The House will reconvene at some point before September 30 to address any additional vetoes if necessary and will reorganize on November 11, following the General Election.
I am excited to spend more time at home over the next few months and I hope to see many of you around town. In the meantime, my door is always open. Thanks for the trust you’ve placed in me to protect your interests this year!