Education funding, state spending, and pension and tax reform top the 2012 priorities for Beaufort County legislators.
The second regular session of the 119th S.C. General Assembly convenes Tuesday.
Beaufort County's Legislative Delegation last year helped pass an amendment to the state's Education Finance Act giving the county a larger share of state money.
The county also received an additional $630,000 in a special budget proviso proposed by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and supported by state Reps. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort; Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton; Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island; and Ken Hodges, D-Green Pond.
The legislators say more work remains, however.
Davis, for example, wants all counties to assess properties based on their full market value. He also wants the full value of manufacturing and commercial properties to be counted in calculations of counties' tax bases. Both affect a county's ability to generate property taxes.
The changes, he said, would give a truer county-by-county picture of state funding needs for education.
Problems with the state pension system are also looming.
If all eligible workers decided to retire right now, the state's pension fund is looking at a $17 billion gap.
Public employees would have to work 30 years and be at least 62 years old to draw full retirement benefits under a proposal given initial approval Dec. 12 by a House panel. Accepted guidelines say pension gaps should be covered within 30 years. A draft report given to lawmakers last year, however, showed the state wouldn't cover the gap, but a combo of lower cost-of-living payments and other legislative changes would put the system back on track, according to The Associated Press.
Attempts to reach some delegation members were unsuccessful. Here are the top three priorities of those available for comment.
Rep. Curtis Brantley, D-Ridgeland
Education: The state needs more teachers committed to educating students. "I think our education system is in the mess it's in now because they use the excuse that children are rude, crude and disrespectful and are shirking their responsibility by putting it on the shoulders of parents." He wants to convene "all stakeholders" to brainstorm solutions "that are in the best interest of children." Jobs: The State Department of Commerce and counties need to "join hands" to bring in industries best-suited for that area. "I'm not certain it's being done to the extent it should be done." Jasper Ocean Terminal: "Bringing that terminal here will not only benefit our region, but our entire state and has global implications. I would like to see us get the necessary permits for the engineers to move forward."
* State spending: The legislature's mentality of "spend everything you get" has to stop. Instead of using new tax dollars to expand and add programs, use the surplus to either pay down debt or reimburse taxpayers for overpayments. Tax reform: Eliminate the special loopholes and then cut taxes for everyone. "The legislature's habit of giving special treatment to companies that have the clout to lobby for them undermines people's faith in their government, and it has to stop." Freedom: "We need to make South Carolina the most free state in that nation, a place where individuals are empowered to solve their own problems and government gets out of the way. That means pushing back against the requirement of ObamaCare and removing barriers to a real free market in health care, increasing school choices for parents and breaking down top-down bureaucratic controls, and ending our growing dependence on the federal government, which always comes with strings attached."
Erickson Education: The EFA funding formula should be replaced with a per-student, weighted reimbursement. Erickson said she also hopes to pass legislation (H 3241) that establishes a revolving loan fund of federal money obtained by the state for charter schools. Tax reform: Remove all the sales tax exemptions to lower the state's overall sales tax (H 4271). She said she plans to "move swiftly" to recommend reforms that make the state "more fertile for businesses." Pension reform: The state needs to keep an eye on what other states are doing, particularly Rhode Island, which overhauled its pension system to control the growth of future obligations and forestall tax increases and service cuts. "Keeping our state retirement system vital is important and will be a large part of this upcoming session."
Patrick School choice: "The public school system should not be concerned by the funds that will be diverted to provide that choice to those that could not otherwise consider the option, but instead focus on what creative solutions can be developed to reduce our costs and create the absolute best learning environment." State pension reform: The state likely needs to require public employees to contribute more, work longer and shift from a defined "benefits plan" to a defined "contribution plan." "We must be fair but also will need to be bold and accept the reality and choose a path that is fiscally responsible." Medicaid reform: The current system is unsustainable. "The way things are going, the federal government will no longer be able to fund Medicaid, and the states will be left on their own to pick up the tab. These trends need to be reversed, and the only way to do it is to replace the current ... system with a realistic market-based solution."
Staff writer Rachel Heaton contributed to this report. Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead
Rep. Curtis Brantley, D-Ridgeland
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort
Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort
Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton
Rep. Kenneth Hodges, D-Green Pond
Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island
Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Ridgeland
Some equity restored to education funding: Aug. 18, 2011
For Beaufort County schools, Gov. Haley's budget heralds both good news and bad: June 28, 2011