Here are the highlights from last week’s action in the Senate –
School make-up days for bad weather – State law requires schools to provide 180 days of instruction to students each school year. The law also requires school districts to include at least three make-up days in the calendar in the event bad weather results in students missing days. Nevertheless, the General Assembly routinely excuses days that certain districts miss because of bad weather. Over the past several years, more and more legislators have expressed frustration with that process.
Last week, the Senate passed H. 3890, a bill that will allow local school boards to waive up to three missed days this school year. After this school year, a district would have to make up three days before the school board could waive any days. After a district makes up three days, a school board could waive up to an additional three days. The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for consideration.
South Carolina State University – Last week the House and Senate agreed on legislation to fire SCSU’s Board of Trustees and create a new seven-member board with one member being appointed by specified elected officials. The new board will be charged with hiring a new president and righting the ship at the university. Governor Haley signed the bill into law on Thursday.
State Budget – The Senate spent four days last week debating the state budget for the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year. As a reminder, the state budget is made up of three parts: General Fund (income taxes, sales taxes, corporate taxes), Federal Funds (primarily for Medicaid and education), and “Other funds” (college and university tuition, gas taxes, fines, fees, etc). Next year’s budget will total approximately $24.6 billion: nearly $6.7B in general fund revenue, nearly $500,000 in surplus and lapsed revenue, just over $8B in federal funds, and roughly $9.4B in “other funds.”
Generally, the budget breaks down as follows:
K-12 Education: $4.3 billion
Criminal Justice: $1.2 billion (Courts, SLED, Department of Public Safety, Department of Corrections, etc.)
Higher Education: $5.1 billion (Universities and technical colleges)
Health & Human Services: $7.1 billion (Medicaid)
$2.8 billion (DSS, Disabilities & Special Needs, Mental Health, etc.)
DHEC: $2.8 billion
Natural Resources: $763,000 (DNR, Forestry, Agriculture, etc.)
Constitutional: $1.2 billion (Constitutional officers, General Assembly, reserve accounts, etc.)
Transportation & Regulatory: $2.3 billion
- 800 bonus for all state employees earning less than $100,000 per year
- 11% pay raise for judges and solicitors
- $4.1M to reimburse counties for a portion of the costs for cleaning up after last year’s ice storm
- At least $69M for roads with possibility of hundreds of millions more from surplus revenue. The total amount will not be known until the Board of Economic Advisers meets later this month to project additional revenue the state will have.
You can see a more detailed summary of the budget here.
The Senate passed the budget Thursday night. The House of Representatives will have an opportunity to make additional changes before the budget goes to Governor Haley.
Funding for Roads and Bridges –Last Thursday I joined 19 other Senate Republicans in presenting an alternative proposal to repair and maintain our roads and bridges, reform how decisions are made at SCDOT, and provide income tax relief. Here are the highlights:
Reform SCDOT governance – The plan would create a new, eight-person commission appointed by the governor with legislative screening and confirmation. The commission would hire and supervise the Secretary of Transportation.
Dedicated funding for roads and bridges – The plan would raise nearly $800 million per year in funding for roads and bridges by:
- Increasing the state’s gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over a period of three years.
- Adjusting the gas tax for inflation each year starting in 2018
- Doubling the fees for obtaining a South Carolina driver’s license and registering vehicles every two years
- Imposing new fees for alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles and commercial vehicles
- Raising the cap on sales taxes for vehicles from $300 to $600 and adjusting that cap for inflation
Income Tax Relief – The plan would return over $700M to SC taxpayers by reducing personal income taxes by 1% across the board over a five-year period. SC currently has marginal tax rates at 3%, 4%, 5%, 6%, and 7%. The proposal would reduce those rates to 2%, 3%, 4%, 5%, and 6%.
- The $700M would come entirely from growth over the next five years, thereby returning some of the growth to the taxpayers who made that growth happen
- Slow the rate of government growth
- Make South Carolina’s income tax rates competitive with other Southeastern states. We currently have the highest marginal rates in the region.
- Every South Carolina income tax payer would benefit
Since 30%-40% of gas tax revenue comes from nonresidents, South Carolinians would actually see more in tax relief than we would pay in additional taxes and fees.
You can read more about the plan here. The Senate will likely debate the plan in the next couple weeks.
Automated phone calls – I have heard from many folks over the past few days about an automated phone call on Friday from Americans for Prosperity. The phone call deceptively suggested I had voted to raise the gas tax and increase many fees. In fact, the message was about the proposal I described above. Of course, the group told you only about the revenue portion. They intentionally did not mention the reform or tax relief components.
As I have said in previous email updates, every one of my town hall meetings this year, and in numerous conversations with people over the past several months, I am committed to fixing our roads and bridges. I think any objective look at the situation leads to the unmistakable conclusion that we need to devote more money to SCDOT for the specific purpose of repairing and maintaining roads and bridges. Having said that, I will not vote for a straight-up tax increase. For me, the package must include (1) sufficient funding for SCDOT to do what we all expect, (2) significant income tax relief for South Carolinians, and (3) substantial reform at SCDOT to ensure more confidence in how decisions are made and who makes those decisions.
Hearing on Palmetto Pipeline – Kinder Morgan plans to construct a pipeline carrying up to 167,000 barrels of refined petroleum products from Belton, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. A portion of the pipeline will run through Aiken County, Edgefield County, and McCormick County. Kinder Morgan has agreed to hold a public hearing at the North Augusta Community Center (495 Brookside Avenue) at 6:00 on Thursday, May 21.
Want to see the General Assembly in Action? – The Senate meets in statewide session on Tuesdays at 12:00, Wednesdays at 2:00, and Thursdays at 11:00. Committees and subcommittees meet Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings, and Thursday mornings. You can watch live coverage of the Senate, House of Representatives, and committees here.
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.