Here are the highlights from last week’s Senate action:
ROADS AND BRIDGES – The Senate spent a lot of time debating H. 3516. Ultimately, the Senate amended the bill and returned it to the House. The version passed by the Senate would:
- Raise the gas tax by 12 cents and several fees over the course of 6 years to generate just over $800 million for roads and bridges. The new money would be dedicated to maintenance and improvement of existing roads and bridges.
- Provide additional bonuses to County Transportation Committees in “donor” counties. In our district, Aiken and Lexington counties would receive additional funds.
- Offer South Carolinians a tax credit rebate of up to 150% of the amount paid in new gas taxes. The 150% is designed to help with increased gas taxes and fees.
- Provide targeted income tax credits for low income wage earners and higher education.
- Reform the SCDOT commission by allowing the governor to remove commissioners at will. The governor now has the authority to nominate commissioners, subject to approval by the local legislative delegations. Allowing the governor to fire commissioners essentially gives the governor control of the SCDOT commission.
- Prohibit SCDOT commissioners from being involved in decisions to award contracts and select project routes. Commissioners could not have any interest in contracts awarded during their tenure and 1 year thereafter.
The amended version of H. 3516 is far from perfect. There are parts that I like, and parts that I don’t like. However, I think it is important that the General Assembly address this issue this session. Therefore, I voted to send the bill back to the House of Representatives so we can continue working toward a stronger bill. The version I outlined above will not be the final language; there is still a long way to go.
I expect a conference committee of House and Senate members to begin working this week to resolve differences between the different versions of the bill. And I am hopeful the final product will be something I can support.
As I have said many times over the past several years, I am confident we can do more to ensure SCDOT is more efficient and accountable. I am also convinced SCDOT needs more money to do what we all expect SCDOT to do. Therefore, I will support additional funds to SCDOT if the bill includes sufficient offsets for working South Carolinians and further reforms at SCDOT. The version passed by the Senate included those three components. I hope the final version will, as well.
STATE PENSION SYSTEM – Governor McMaster signed into law H. 3726, a bill to address the South Carolina Retirement System’s challenges. The law will:
- Ensure that members of the investment commission are qualified.
- Cap employee contributions in the South Carolina Retirement System (state employees, teachers, and most local government employees) at 9.0% of their salaries while the employer’s portion would increase to a total of 18.56% over the next five years. Thus, beginning in 2022, employees and employers will combine to save nearly 28% of an employee’s salary until the system becomes solvent.
- Cap police officer contributions at 9.75% with employers picking up 21.24%.
The pension reform committee will now begin work on phase 2, which should include altering the retirement system for new hires. Phase 2 will not pass this year, but I am hopeful the General Assembly will pass that legislation next session.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY SCHEDULE – The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on May 11. We will then return May 25-27, if necessary, to consider gubernatorial vetoes. The legislature should adjourn for the year by Memorial Day.
SCDOT PROJECTS – SCDOT Secretary, Christy Hall, recently appeared before the Senate Transportation Committee to present an annual State of the SCDOT. You can view Secretary Hall’s power point presentation here.
WANT TO SEE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN ACTION? – The Senate meets in statewide session on Tuesdays at 2:00, Wednesdays at 12:00, and Thursdays at 11:00. Committees and subcommittees meet Tuesday mornings, 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.
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