These lawmakers are sure to make headlines this legislative session.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston. This could be a pivotal session for Harrell. On his to-do list is raising the cigarette tax and laying the groundwork for comprehensive tax reform. Those are two major victories that could define his legacy.
Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee. Sandifer was elected chairman of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, and any bill that will regulate payday lending is headed for his committee. Those who are for and against regulating the industry will be watching — and pressuring — Sandifer.
Sen. John Scott, D-Richland. Scott spent 18 years in the S.C. House, the past 14 operating in the minority. Scott has often expressed frustration about not being able to get bills through the House. Now that he’s in the Senate, where he will have the option of single-handedly blocking legislation, expect Scott not to be shy about using this senatorial authority to make a splash and bargain.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. McConnell is pushing spending caps, which would limit the amount of money lawmakers can spend year to year no matter how much revenue the state takes in. Shepherding this through would be a big victory for McConnell.
Rep. Phil Owens, R-Pickens. Owens, new chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, will have to deal with a renewed effort by school-choice advocates who want the state to help parents pay for private school with public money. The issue is one of the General Assembly’s most divisive.
5 big issues
Lawmakers will spend plenty of time either debating or avoiding debate on these critical issues.
Budget Lawmakers will have to draw a budget that is likely $1 billion lighter than last year. Left to be answered is whether lawmakers use a scalpel or an ax to trim spending. If cuts are targeted, expect plenty of debate. If cuts are broad, there will be less to debate.
Cigarette tax House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, is optimistic a 50-cents-a-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax will pass this year. Harrell, who helped torpedo the plan that passed last session, hopes to use the $150 million to expand the number of families who get health insurance by helping businesses pay for premiums. Some Democrats prefer using the money to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor.
Payday lending At least a half-dozen bills have been filed to either eliminate the payday lending industry or tightly regulate it. A bill to put limits on payday lending died in the waning days of the past session. Lawmakers think a payday lending bill could pass this session.
School choice Gov. Mark Sanford said he would like to reignite the ongoing debate over whether South Carolina should spend public money for parents to send their children to private schools. Lawmakers could take the issue head on, as they did in 2004. Or lawmakers can essentially avoid all education debate, as they did in 2008, partly out of fear a tax credit plan would be attached to an education bill the General Assembly wanted.
Infrastructure If President-elect Barack Obama and Congress are able to direct billions of dollars in federal money to the state for infrastructure projects, then S.C. will have to figure out a way to spend the money. Lawmakers will have plenty of say in deciding which projects get funding. Also, Harrell wants to divert from the general fund the $300 sales tax on cars and devote it to road maintenance.