The legislative session is winding down. There are 3 weeks (9 legislative days) left before the General Assembly adjourns on June 7. Here are the highlights from last week at the Statehouse –
STATE BUDGET – The Senate spent last week debating the 2012-2013 state budget. The budget is made up of 3 parts: General Fund (revenue from income, sales, and corporate taxes), Federal (federal tax dollars redirected to the state for education, roads, Medicaid, etc.), and “Other” (fines and fees collected for state services). The legislative debate typically focuses on the General Fund because expenditures from the Federal and Other categories are set, for the most part, by other law.
Under the current version of the budget, this year’s General Fund would be approximately $6.6 billion (the total budget is over $23 billion). That $6.6 billion figure would make this General Fund budget the 3rd largest in state history (the total budget of $23 billion would be the largest in state history).
The Senate gave preliminary approval to the budget last week but spent most of the week debating amendments to the proposed budget. That debate will continue this week with the possibility of a final vote on the budget later in the week. I voted “no” on the preliminary approval vote because, at $6.6 billion, the General Fund expenditures would grow by more than 10% over last year’s budget. A reasonable growth rate in good revenue years makes sense, but this double-digit increase is neither reasonable nor necessary. As I have mentioned before, we have to be more responsible with our budgeting in South Carolina.
Here is a short article by the Associated Press that discusses the current version of the budget.
SC RETIREMENT SYSTEM – The Senate passed legislation last week that would reshape South Carolina’s pension system. The bill is designed to shore up the retirement system while honoring commitments to current employees. The bill now goes back to the House. Here is an article about the changes. You can read the bill here.
FIX TO ELECTION SYSTEM – In the aftermath of the confusing election qualification fiasco, the Senate passed a bill to correct irregularities in the process for filing to run for office. The bill would make 2 significant changes to current law: (1) everyone – challengers and incumbents – would have to file economic interest disclosures by March 30 and (2) candidates would sign up and file with the county election commission rather than the local parties. If passed by the House, these changes would apply to all future elections. You can read an article about the bill here. You can read the bill itself here.
GOVERNOR/LT. GOVERNOR ON SAME TICKET – The House and Senate have agreed on a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the Governor and Lt. Governor to run together as a team. If approved by the voters this November, the new law would take effect with the 2018 election and require a candidate for Governor to select his or her running mate prior to being certified for the November ballot. This process would be similar to the way Presidential candidates select their Vice Presidential running mates. You can read the proposed language here.
CHARTER SCHOOL BILL – Governor Nikki Haley signed into law H.3241, a bill that would update the laws related to charter schools. Some of the highlights of H. 3241 are:
• colleges and universities could sponsor charter schools. Now, only local school districts or the statewide charter school district can sponsor charter schools.
• single-gender charter schools could be created.
• charter school students could compete for and participate in extracurricular activities at their resident public school if the charter school does not offer those activities.
BILLS OF INTEREST
“Tim Tebow” Bill – The “Equal Access to Interscholastic Activities Act” would allow students who attend charter schools, the Governor’s school, or home school to participate in extracurricular activities at the students’ resident public school. The bill is modeled after similar legislation in Florida that allowed Tim Tebow to play football at a public high school even though he attended home school. A House subcommittee passed the bill last week, and the full House should consider the legislation very soon. The Senate has already passed the bill. You can read the bill here.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS – South Carolina’s unemployment rate continues to improve, dropping to 8.8% in April. Here are the numbers for the counties in our Senate district:
|County||April 2012 unemployment rate||March 2012 unemployment rate||April 2011 unemployment rate|
You can see the entire report here.
U.S. FIBERS EXPANSION – U.S. Fibers recently announced plans to invest $5.5 million into an expansion of its Trenton plant. The expansion is expected to create 48 new jobs! This announcement follows U.S. Fibers $10.1 million expansion in 2010 that generated 85 new jobs in Edgefield County. To read more about the expansion, go here.
MICHELIN EXPANSION – Michelin recently announced plans to invest $750 million to build a new plant in Anderson and expand its existing plant in Lexington. The investment is expected to create 500 new jobs, more than half of which will be at the Lexington plant. You can read a couple articles about the new investment here and here.
BRIDGESTONE HIRING – The Bridgestone plant in Graniteville announced a significant expansion last Fall. They are now hiring for the new positions. For information on how to apply, go here.
Brasfield & Gorrie, the contractor for the new Bridgestone plant, is accepting applications for:
- Carpenter-must have own hand tools. Industrial Construction and concrete experience preferred. 5yrs experience preferred
- Laborer-Industrial construction and concrete experience preferred. Must be able to lift up to 70lbs and work in all types of weather. 2 yrs experience preferred.
Applications will be taken at the job site trailer at 436 Old Vaucluse Road on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11am-3pm and Thursdays from 4pm-6pm. Preemployment drug screen required as are Safety Toe Boots.
MTU EXPANSION – Tognum America announced recently that it will expand its Graniteville MTU plant. Here’s a press release from the department of Commerce.
If you know of a business that is hiring, please let me know. I’d love to include that information in the next newsletter so we can get the word out.
LAST WEEK’S MEETINGS
On Monday morning, I attended the Edgefield Alliance meeting at Piedmont Tech’s Edgefield campus. We heard from Piedmont Tech’s representatives about the technical college’s involvement in economic development.
On Monday morning, I met with Rep. Roland Smith, Aiken County Council member LaWana McKenzie, and Ian Headley from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint’s office to discuss efforts to establish a zip code for Clearwater. We are making progress, and we hope to have a community meeting in the next several weeks to share that information.
On Monday night, I attended a “meet and greet”/town hall meeting in Mt. Vintage (Edgefield County). I met a lot of new people, and we had a great conversation about issues facing South Carolina. Thanks to Marcia and Dan Bergtholdt for hosting the event and to everyone who came out. It was a great night!
On Tuesday morning, I toured Comporium in Gilbert. Comporium offers digital cable, high speed internet, and mobile phone services. They’ve done a great job expanding high speed internet access into their service area! Thanks to Glenn Martin and Al Harmon for showing me around!
On Tuesday night, I made a brief stop (the Senate was in session late) at Strom Thurmond High School FFA’s annual banquet. Ms. Darla Steele and Mr. Dan Henderson do a great job with the FFA, and they had a tremendous turnout!
On Thursday morning, I spoke at Delta Sigma Theta’s annual legislative breakfast. This group of committed women does a great job for South Carolina!
On Thursday night, I attended a “meet and greet” in Lexington. Thanks to Melissa and Otis Rawl for hosting the meeting and great conversation!
On Saturday, I attended Aiken Electric Cooperative’s annual membership meeting. Well over 4,000 people attended the annual business meeting where trustees are selected. Aiken Electric does a great job at low rates, and they’re always involved in community events.
On Sunday, my home church (Providence Baptist Church in Johnston) hosted a recognition service for First Responders. I was glad to participate in the service by recognizing the local law enforcement, fire departments, EMTs, and military personnel. Our first responders do a wonderful job of protecting us and keeping us free; tell them “thank you” next time you see them!
TOWN HALL MEETINGS – I have held 13 town hall meetings so far this Spring. I hope to have a couple more before the legislative session ends. I’ll keep you updated as we get them scheduled.
HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION FILING IS OPEN – Persons who were at least 65 years of age, blind, or 100% disabled as of December 31, 2011, are entitled to a property tax exemption on the first $50,000 in appraised value on their residence. However, in order to get the tax exemption, the person must apply with the county auditor. Auditors are now accepting applications for the 2012 tax year. Contact your county auditor with questions.
SPEAKING WITH GROUPS – Several groups, clubs, and classes around our Senate district have invited me to attend their meetings and provide legislative updates. If you would like for me to come speak with your group, please let me know.
EMAIL UPDATES – If you know of people in or around District 25 who do not receive my updates but would like to get them, please email their names and email addresses to me. You can also forward this email to them and encourage them to sign up for the updates at www.senatormassey.com.