Here are the highlights from last week in the Senate –
State Budget – After a total of 8 days of debate, the Senate passed the state budget late Tuesday. The budget will now go to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions. Here are some of the highlights of the Senate’s version of the 2013-2014 budget:
– infrastructure funding: the money used to fund maintenance and repairs on our roads and bridges comes, almost exclusively, from gas tax revenue and federal funds devoted to federal roads. With a surplus of $683M in this year’s General Fund, I and several other senators attempted to apply some of the surplus to road and bridge work. Ultimately, the Senate agreed to send $50M to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to repair and rehabilitate bridges across the state. The SIB can bond the money and use it to leverage $500M over a 15 year period. The plan is for SCDOT to rehabilitate or replace the most deficient bridges in nearly every county.
– Medicaid expansion: the Senate spent several hours debating whether to expand the Medicaid program pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). With a vote of 23-19, the Senate opted not to expand Medicaid.
– school funding and Medicaid – a significant amount of the budget surplus would go to K-12 education and Medicaid. The budget increases the base student cost from $2,012/student to $2,101/per student, not including local and federal funding. Medicaid is easily the fastest growing portion of the state budget. Even without expanding the program per Obamacare, each year presents a challenge just to keep up with annual growth in the existing program
– tax credits for school choice: nearly an entire day was devoted to a discussion about whether to offer tax credits to parents of poor and disabled students for school choice options. The main amendment failed, but a later amendment that would allow parents of children with special needs to access scholarship funds for more educational opportunities did pass.
– new school buses: South Carolina owns just over 5,000 school buses, 58% of which are more than 15 years old. A state law passed in 2007 recommends that the state replace 1/15th of the bus fleet every year, so as to cycle buses out after a 15-year life span. Unfortunately, as is obvious from 58% of the buses being over 15 years old, the General Assembly has done a terrible job living up to that commitment: it would cost about $35 million each year. Three years ago I joined with two other senators in fighting to provide more funds for the Department of Education to buy buses. We were able to get about 1/3 of the funds necessary then, and through a continued push we’ve found nearly $25 million this year. We’re not where we need to be, but I do feel like we’re making progress on this legitimate state obligation.
– local government funding: The state places a large number of mandates on local governments. To offset the financial hit of those mandates, the state sends a good bit of funding to local governments, typically referred to as the Local Government Fund (LGF). Although state law requires LGF to be 4.5% of the previous year’s General Fund budget, the General Assembly has suspended that requirement for the past few years. In this year’s budget, the House voted to fund LGF at the same rate as last year. The Senate Finance Committee reduced that funding by roughly 10%. Last week, the full Senate voted to restore LGF funding to last year’s level just as the House did.
Capital Reserve Fund bill – The S.C. Constitution provides for a separate fund for capital projects. Along with the budget each year, the General Assembly passes a Capital Reserve Fund bill to fund several projects, most of which are legitimate capital needs. The Senate passed this bill, as well. You can see a list of projects in the Capital Reserve Fund here.
Ethics Reform – I’ve written some this year about legislation to update laws that govern the ethics of public officials. The comprehensive proposal would, among other things, require legislators to disclose the source of all income – private and public – and require an independent organization to investigate ethics complaints against legislators. The Senate set the bill for priority debate status, and I’m hoping we’ll take it up before the session expires on Thursday.
Resistance to Obamacare – South Carolina has put up a pretty significant fight to Obamacare: we were one of the primary plaintiffs in the suit challenging the Act’s constitutionality, we have refused to implement the required health insurance exchanges, and we declined to expand the Medicaid program. Additionally, the House passed H.3101, the Freedom of Health Care Protection Act, which would prohibit state employees or political subdivisions from implementing any part of the federal law. The Senate set the bill for debate; if the bill does come up, I expect there will be a tremendous amount of debate.
Government Restructuring – I’ve written a good bit about attempts to restructure South Carolina’s antiquated state government. In late February, the Senate passed S. 22, the bill that would abolish the Budget & Control Board; create a new, cabinet-level Department of Administration; prohibit agencies from running deficits without General Assembly approval; and, probably most importantly, require the legislature to conduct oversight of executive agencies. The House recently passed a version of the bill, as well. A conference committee will now try to work out the differences. I will be one of the 3 senators on the conference committee.
General Assembly’s schedule – This week will be the last week of this year’s regular session for the General Assembly. We will likely have to return for 1-2 weeks to finalize the budget and address gubernatorial vetoes. I will update you about the schedule in next week’s update.
Last Week’s Meetings
Unfortunately, I’ve missed a few in-district meetings over the last few weeks because of the extended budget debate. Here are some of the events I made last week:
- On Monday, I attended a Memorial Day ceremony in Saluda. It was a beautiful day and a great program.
- On Friday, I attended graduation at Saluda High School.
High school graduations – It’s graduation season, and I congratulate all 2013 seniors for a significant accomplishment! Here’s a list of remaining high school graduations in our district. Please let me know if I’ve missed any.
Aiken High School
Thursday, June 6 – 2:00p.m.
Fox Creek High School
Thursday, June 6 – 7:00p.m.
Midland Valley High School
Friday, June 7 – 9:00a.m.
Ridge Spring-Monetta High School
Friday, June 7 – 3:00p.m.
North Augusta High School
Friday, June 7 – 6:00p.m.
Strom Thurmond High School
Friday, June 7 – 7:00p.m.
Batesburg-Leesville High School
Friday, June 7 – 8:00p.m.
Lexington High School
Saturday, June 8 – 8:30a.m.
Gilbert High School
Saturday, June 8 – 6:00p.m.
Our Senate District – Senate district 25 consists of all of Edgefield County and parts of Aiken, Lexington, McCormick, and Saluda Counties. If you’d like to see the district map, go here.
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.
P.O. Box 551
Edgefield, SC 29824
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Cell Phone – (803) 480-0419