We have five weeks left in the 2019 Session and our three biggest issues- Education Reform, Santee Cooper, and the Budget are still out in front of us. We have been working diligently in the Senate on these issues and I would like to update you as to where I think we are heading as we near the end of the session.

I am serving on the Senate Education sub-committee dealing with S. 419 (Education Reform Bill) and we have been working through it since the end of February. We have held Town Hall meetings in McCormick, Hartsville, Gaffney, and Georgetown. The Greenville Legislative Delegation also held a meeting this past Thursday night at Wade Hampton High School. All of these meetings were set up to give educators a chance to give input.

One of the biggest things to understand about this bill is that it does not deal with any salary  issues, other than raising the state mandatory minimum starting salary for a teacher from $32,000 to $35,000. Salary raises will be dealt with in the budget.

The Senate has had the benefit of a slower process in order to tackle the bill piece by piece and section by section, thanks to the leadership of the chairman, Senator Greg Hembree. We want to get it right before we pass it. We have deleted things like the Education Czar, the Zero to Twenty committee, the Students Bill of Rights, and additional ethics requirements for school board members. I think by the time we have a final Senate bill, it will be more concise and will have a focus on the early school years.

The sub committee bill still has to go through full committee to get to the floor for debate before we send a final version back to the House. Most likely, they won’t accept it, and the bill will go to a Conference committee.

The Conference Committee will be comprised of three House members and three Senate members, and will be tasked with coming up with a final bill to send to the Governor. Its been 30 years since our last major education reform, so I believe it is more important to get it right than to get it out fast.

Regarding Santee Cooper (South Carolina Public Service Authority), a lot of people in the upstate don’t really understand what it is. I try to explain that if you are a resident of South Carolina, you are basically a stockholder in a state owned utility company that has a $9.2 billion dollar debt primarily due to the failed nuclear reactor project.

So how did we get in the utility business? It was actually due to one of the biggest political paybacks ever for South Carolina.

Senator James F. Byrnes helped deliver the South Carolina vote and the South to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election. As part of FDR’s New Deal plan and as payback, we got Santee Cooper in 1935. It was built for $45 million dollars at a time when our state budget was $8 million.

At the same time, the Federal Government built the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). They kept TVA until Reagan sold it in the 80’s, but they gave Santee Cooper to South Carolina.

In 1941, 97% of rural South Carolina had no electricity. The Co-Ops were formed and by 1949, that number was reversed. That was only 75 years ago.

In South Carolina, Duke Energy serves about 600,000 customers, Dominion (SCANA) serves about 700,000, and Santee Cooper serves just over 1,000,000 customers. We had outside consultants bring in the reports that showed there is a robust market of potential buyers. A couple of the biggest questions are:

1. Can you get enough to pay off the debt? It is a very undervalued asset right now.
2. Is it smart for South Carolina long-term to sell and possibly be faced with all of our utility decisions being made outside of the state?

These debates will begin at the end of next week.

The last big issue will be passing the budget and making sure we are taking care of teacher’s salaries, other government worker’s salaries, and long-term obligations that we are behind on, such as school buses, local government funds, and pensions, just to name a few.  We need to spend the good times getting ready for the bad.

If you want to give input on these or any other issues, please send me an email at rossturner@scsenate.gov or call my office in Columbia and leave a message with my assistant, Ja’vell Bynoe, at (803)212-6148.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!