Yesterday we finished the second week of this year’s session, which began on Tuesday, January 12. This is the second year of a two year session, so everything that was on the “calendar” when we left in July was there waiting for us.
Number one on that list is the Road Funding bill (H 3579). The “Hayes” committee (4 Democrats, 4 Republicans) that was appointed by Finance Chairman Senator Leatherman at the end of session last year has been working the first two weeks to try and come up with a “consensus” on the bill before we begin debate on it – most likely next week.
The debate will center around amending the current funding bill, which creates $800 million dollars in annual funding for highways on a recurring basis after 5 years. The Republican Caucus has an amendment that we worked on last year that adds an income tax reduction and DOT reform to the bill. I support this amendment and will support the bill as long as it has all three components. I will not support a straight “gas tax” without also reducing the income tax. This is the same position I described in the editorial I wrote in the Greenville News and in my newsletter last May.
I do believe we have the money to fund our roads as we have proven by using money from the General Fund over the last 2 years ($400 million last year); however, I have a real problem with continuing to fund the roads on the back of the income tax payer with this “band-aid” approach. The General Fund is primarily made up of Income Taxes and Sales Taxes. Most of our growth has been from Income Taxes. A majority of the Republican Senators believe that we should shift the burden of the roads from the income tax payers to the “users” of the road – of which a third is out of state people.
In the Transportation committee meeting this week, Christy Hall was unanimously approved as the Secretary of Transportation. She has served as Deputy Director since the end of the summer and did an incredible job leading the DOT through the October Flood and keeping us informed of their progress. Sometimes the best reform you can make is by having the right leaders in place. I believe Christy Hall brings that leadership and we will see positive changes in the DOT because of it.
This week we also were able to start giving commitments on the first round of Judicial appointments this session. We will vote on these judges next week. Later this session, we will be voting on a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This will be an issue that draws a great deal of attention the closer we get to it.
On Wednesday, I participated in the launch of the Legislature Prayer Caucus in the lobby of the State House. We have over 70 legislators currently signed up as members of this caucus that was originated in Congress by leaders that believe and understand prayer for our Nation, our State, and wisdom for our leaders – is critical for our future.
I did receive 2 new Judiciary sub committee appointments that will meet next week. One deals with the Workers Comp commission and the other is making the Secretary of Education a Governor’s appointment rather than an elected position.
I will continue to keep you informed on what is going on in Columbia. Please keep me informed of your opinions and concerns as I do my best to represent you. Don’t forget you can also go to www.scstatehouse.gov and see all of the meetings scheduled and their agendas. Many of the main committee meetings are also broadcast live through this website.