(Published in the Daily Journal)
This year in the House has been marked by cooperation and the process of passing the state budget was no exception. In record time, we passed a budget that honors the spending caps we have set and increases spending at a conservative 2.86 percent. This is well below the “population plus inflation” benchmark we set up and lower than the executive budget created by the Governor. The House version of the budget now heads to the Senate.
Repairing South Carolina’s aging roads and bridges is a high priority this year and the budget provides about $100 million in extra funding for it. We had tremendous consensus on this issue and many legislators on both sides of the aisle understand the direct link between attracting jobs and having a good transportation infrastructure.
Education also received additional funding in this year’s budget. K-12 education funding would see an increase of more than $77 million next year with per pupil funding increasing by $89 to $2101. We also included $10.5 million to replace aging school buses. Although education funding is still not where we would like it to be, these increases are definitely a positive step.
The most heated part of the budget debate involved whether or not South Carolina would accept temporary federal Medicaid funds to expand coverage to at least 200,000 more citizens. On three votes, and along party lines, we rejected these attempts at expansion. Unfortunately, funding the increase is simply unsustainable long-term and the Medicaid budget as it exists now is already growing at four times the rate of the rest of the state budget.
Healthcare for South Carolinians is a critical issue and we were able to approve an alternate plan designed to lower costs and improve outcomes, rather than dramatically increasing the number of people on Medicaid. This plan would encourage people to seek care at free clinics instead of emergency rooms. As a state, we would continue to direct our limited Medicaid funding to children, the elderly, and pregnant women.
Along with the state budget, bills are moving through the House and Senate to help ensure fairness in state government contracts. They would prevent state government entities from requiring contractors to enter into project labor agreements (PLAs) as a condition of performing state and local construction projects, which are pre-hire collective bargaining agreements with a union. These bills are in response to a 2009 move by the federal government, which issued an executive order encouraging PLAs as a condition for federal contracts. The purpose of the South Carolina legislation is to encourage neutrality in taxpayer-funded projects, rather than requiring contractors to bargain through a union.
It is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to let me know.