FAIR Letter Response

FAIR Letter Response

S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Speaker, S.C. House of Representatives

I was distressed to learn that thirty-three USC law professors recently sent a letter of support to the president of the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (“FAIR”).  FAIR is currently mounting a First Amendment challenge before the US Supreme Court to the Solomon Amendment.  The Solomon Amendment is a federal statute that withholds specified federal funds from institutions of higher education that deny military recruiters the same access to their campuses and students that they provide to other recruiters.  Basically, the Solomon Amendment keeps many schools, particularly many law schools, from banning the military from their institution. 

The situation here is an easy one to understand.  Law schools across the country readily invite employment recruiters to come to their campuses and meet with students.  The recruiters provide the opportunity for students to learn about their firms or companies and pursue a job with them if they wish.  This is true, unless the job being promoted is for the Judge Advocate General.

The only reason recruiters from the armed services are now allowed into many law schools is because of the Solomon Amendment.  Many law schools only now allow military recruiters onto their campuses for fear of losing precious federal funding.  If there was nothing linking the decision about letting recruiters come to their school and the federal funding the schools receive, law schools could easily turn the military away.  The organization FAIR is trying to eliminate that link, and a group of thirty-three USC law school professors have just given their complete support to them.

Groups like FAIR take stances against the military.  They do not want to provide any assistance to our armed forces but are more than willing to take any benefits the military may provide.  The group of thirty-three want USC's law school to close its doors to the military.  I wonder what would happen if USC's law school campus were being attacked by Al-Qaeda, would they keep the same closed-door policy? 

This message by the group of thirty-three is nothing new in liberal, anti-military elitist circles.  This type of crusade has been going on for years.  In 2003 almost the entire student population of Yale signed a petition saying they would not meet with the Navy JAG recruiter that was coming to their campus.  The one, and only, student who scheduled a meeting with the recruiter canceled their interview due in part to the actions of the student body. 

There is nothing new about this subject, what is new is where the outcry is coming from.  I had no idea that our professors here at USC's law school viewed our brothers and sisters in arms in the same light as the elitist liberal colleges of the North East.  The kinship they share with their academic brethren of the North must be stronger than the patriotism they have for our soldiers, sailors and airmen who are risking their lives to defend freedom.

What concerns me the most is the message this action sends.  USC's law school has a strong JAG presence, what are those students to think?  Even worse, what does this say to law students who are considering a career in the military? 

Public schools do have the option, if they choose, to refuse military recruiters open access to their campuses.  However, if they do, they will not receive some of their federal funding from the government.  FAIR is in court now to change that rule so law schools can keep their money while telling the government to keep their recruiters to themselves. 

USC Law is a public institution that benefits from federal and state tax money.  In fact, the salaries made by the group of thirty-three are paid in large part from those tax dollars.  They seem to have a give and take relationship with the military of the government that pays them.  They will give a military recruiter a Keep Out sign with one hand while they take a check out of the government's pocket with the other. 

In the letter they sent, the group of thirty-three said the letter was written in their individual capacity, but the letter and press release that went out was sent using USC law school's equipment, two previous dean's signatures were included, and they clearly state in the first sentence how all members work at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  I just hope this is not the official opinion of USC's law school.  I urge the law school to come out against this message and support our military. 

The Solomon Amendment requires law schools to give military recruiters the same access they give to all other employment recruiters.  All the government is asking for is equal treatment.  It is this equality the thirty-three USC law school professors and their friends at FAIR disagree with.  It seems that law schools are truly the champions of diversity, or perhaps more accurately, they are the champions of selective diversity. 


Creating Jobs and Raising Income-Levels Must Be High Priorities

Creating Jobs and Raising Income-Levels Must Be High Priorities

S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Speaker, S.C. House of Representatives

Our state has received a wake up call.  When Standard & Poor's recently downgraded South Carolina's bond rating from the highest AAA level to AA+, it pointed to the state's sluggish growth and higher than average unemployment rate.  Moody's Investors Service recently reaffirmed our AAA, but gave us a “negative outlook” primarily because of our unemployment rate.  It praised our state's conservative debt and fiscal management while cautioning us about economic weakness and employment declines.

The news from S&P and Moody's and the fact that the state's unemployment rate has fallen from third-best in the nation to fifth-worst has brought to light that it's time to intensify our economic development and job-creation efforts.

We must reprioritize and refocus on economic development to bring about the kind of job growth that helped us to grow South Carolina's economy in years past. The bottom line is this: The General Assembly is committed to working with the governor and private- sector leaders to overcome every obstacle to economic growth. Together we must develop a strategic approach to stimulate job creation and raise income levels across the state.

The solution is tri-fold. First, we need to continue to aggressively recruit companies to South Carolina – companies that open up job opportunities for our citizens. Next, we need to identify and implement ways to help large and small South Carolina companies not only survive but also thrive, and in thriving create new and better paying jobs. Finally, we must transform our research universities into economic engines, the same way North Carolina did when they formed the research triangle 40 years ago.

Reformation begins with an in-depth look at the Department of Commerce's toolbox. We need to give this agency the tools and resources it needs to succeed. We also need to fully support the various economic development groups. With a spirit of cooperation among all regions of our state, we can better compete against the rest of the nation – and even the world.

In 2004, the hardworking folks at the Department of Commerce doubled the amount of capital investment they attracted to our state in the previous year. We need to build on this momentum. But again, that requires us to take a look inside the agency's toolbox and make sure it is equipped for success.

The availability of a well-trained workforce is also key to recruiting companies to our state. Knowing this, we must continue to work to build a first-rate educational system. We must strengthen our world-class workforce development programs offered by our technical college system.

The next step to reach these goals is identifying and implementing ways to help existing South Carolina companies – both large and small – thrive and create new and better paying jobs.  As President George Bush recently pointed out at the National Small Business Week Conference in April, small businesses create two-thirds of new private-sector jobs in America, employ more than half of all workers, and account for more than half the output of the U.S. economy. South Carolina must continue to support small businesses.

The General Assembly has built a solid record of enacting legislation to support the business community and companies of all sizes.  In fact, a sample of legislation from the 2005 session alone includes the Jobs Creation Act, the Tax Credit Carry Forward Act, the Small Business Income Tax Reduction Act, the Air Carrier Hub Terminal Facilities Act, the State Ports Authority Facility Investment Tax Credits Act, the Venture Capital Investment Act, the Innovation and Research Centers Act, the Motion Picture Industry Film Incentives Act, and comprehensive Tort Reform.  All of this pro-business legislation clearly demonstrates the General Assembly's strategic focus during the last session on building a business-friendly climate in South Carolina. 

When the next session begins, we must continue to proactively introduce and pass legislation that helps South Carolina companies experience the kind of success that is long lasting. That means keeping our finger on the pulse of businesses to determine what they need to grow.

Finally, we must transform our research universities into economic engines. South Carolina's economy is in transition.  We have seen declines in long-time economic staples, such as agriculture and textiles, since the 2001 recession.  South Carolina must position itself as a viable player in a changing economy. Two of the bills the legislature passed in the 2005 session, the South Carolina Innovation and Research Centers Act and the Venture Capital Investment Act, are meant to put us on the road to a knowledge-based economy.

It is going to take the cooperation of government and business leaders committed to working together as we transition to a knowledge-based economy.  At the end of the day, pointing fingers won't help us meet the challenge. We must prepare a roadmap that will take us from where we are to where we need to go. A renewed focus on creating new and high-paying jobs will raise income levels and improve the quality of life for our citizens. We must face our state's growth challenge head on, embrace our various roles in job creation, and turn the dream of a better life for South Carolinians into a tangible reality.


Progress and Teamwork Make 2005 a Banner Year in the General Assembly

Progress and Teamwork Make 2005
a Banner Year in the General Assembly

S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Chairman
Speaker-elect, S.C. House of Representatives
Former Chairman, House Ways & Means Committee

This was a banner year in South Carolina. Members of the General Assembly worked together for the common good, largely setting aside partisanship for teamwork.  This unique spirit of cooperation allowed us to pass important legislation and to make great strides for our great state. 

We've addressed critical issues like job creation, education and health – and this is just the beginning. I am encouraged by what I've seen in the legislature this year and am committed to fostering continued collaboration in the coming sessions.

Legislation passed in 2005 will move South Carolina 's economy forward. For instance, the Job Creation Act allows a small business to qualify for a job creation tax credit after hiring only two people. In addition, the Tax Credit Carry Forward Act assists our state's manufacturers. And the Corporate Income Tax Moratorium Act provides a tax break that will encourage companies to create jobs in the state's rural communities.

Indeed, sparking economic development is a major focus of South Carolina lawmakers. The legislature also passed the Venture Capital Investment Act to provide capital to early stage research and start-up enterprises as well as the South Carolina Innovation and Research Centers Act, which will leverage the state's academic resources to increase research and drive economic development. And, tort reform bills now limit lawsuit awards in medical malpractice cases with a $350,000 cap on pain and suffering awards.  With a strong focus on pro-business legislation, we are creating an environment where businesses can grow and create quality jobs in our state.

Nowhere is bipartisanship more important than in educational initiatives. Our children are our future and South Carolina 's government has demonstrated its dedication to the next generation. For example, in 2005 we passed the Education and Economic Development Act. The bill enables students to begin a study focus such as health science, finance, information technology, or arts and humanities as early as the 10th grade.  This law is an important means of addressing the quality of life and standard of living for our graduates.

Then there's the Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005, which was widely supported by both parties.  This legislation tips the scales in the favor of South Carolina 's youth with a renewed focus on physical education and well-rounded nutrition in our state's schools. The goal of this bill is to combat obesity, reduce medical expenditures from state Medicaid funds, and ultimately help students perform better in school.

Though a large focus of 2005 was on job creation, education and health, the legislature did not neglect other key areas of importance to our state, such as highway funding. The Highway Funding/DOC Set Aside Act passed this year redirects an estimated $70 million generated by the vehicle and driving-related taxes to repair our state's secondary road and to fortify our state's infrastructure bank for future needs.

Most importantly, the 2005 legislative session was characterized by a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship not seen in our state in more than a decade, and rarely seen in a legislative body. This year, we were able to build a bridge between political parties to create and pass legislation that serves our citizens.

Perhaps the biggest indication of strong cooperation is the fact that the state budget was unanimously passed in the House, something that has not happened in more than 25 years.  House members united behind a budget that prioritizes education and fully funds it to the Education Finance Act (EFA) levels.  For the first time in several years, we have fully funded the base student cost at $2,290, which raises total per pupil funding to $9,826.  This budget also provides for repaying the trust funds, hiring more law enforcement officers, giving raises to state employees, fully funding Medicaid, and incorporating many of the Governor's cost-saving strategies to help state agencies become more efficient.

Once again, I am encouraged. What we accomplished this year sets the stage and the tone for future sessions. We must continue with a spirit of bipartisan cooperation – and we will. I truly believe that both sides of the aisle want the best for South Carolina .  We are committed to working together to create a better educational system, a better business climate that generates jobs, and a better quality of life for citizens across our state.

As we move forward, the S.C. General Assembly is charged with looking closely at where the state needs to go, making a plan to get there, and turning the vision into reality. This year's tremendous progress on multiple fronts proves what we can accomplish when men and women, Democrats and Republicans, veterans and newcomers alike work together to improve South Carolina.


A Budget that Reflects South Carolinians' Top Priority: Education

A Budget that Reflects South Carolinians' Top Priority: Education

S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Chairman, House Ways & Means Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee recently completed a $5.8 billion spending plan that offers more funds for education, law enforcement, Medicaid, and restoring our state's trust funds.

It is a great day for South Carolina when parties who have held such differing views on past political issues have unanimously passed this budget out of the
House Ways and Means Committee. The level of cooperation between the political parties and the desire to work together was unprecedented.  Then again, it shouldn't be hard for legislators to agree on a budget that focuses on the issues South Carolinians tell us are priorities. What brought us together is a commitment to making the very best choices for South Carolina 's future, and a spirit of cooperation that we have not seen in several years. 

Education is the top priority of this budget. During the past few difficult years, we said when times got better we wanted to focus even more on education, and we were pleased to announce that we are fully funding education to the Education Finance Act (EFA) level.  At the same time, we are repaying trust funds, hiring more law enforcement officers, and giving raises to state employees.

With this budget, the total per pupil funding for South Carolina will be $9,826, which includes the “base student cost” being fully funded at $2,290.  That is good news for students, parents and teachers.  What's more, teacher supply money was increased to $250, and teacher salaries will be increased so that they will continue to be $300 above the Southeast average.  Furthermore, the budget fully funds our state's scholarship programs:  LIFE, Palmetto Fellows and HOPE scholarships and continues to provide funding for tuition assistance to two-year institutions.

In addition to education, law enforcement is also a priority.  The budget adds 100 new Highway Patrol officers, 124 corrections officers, 20 SLED agents, 118 SC Department of Juvenile Justice officers, 10 SC Department of Natural Resources agents and four new criminal prosecutors.  State employees will receive a 4 percent pay raise for the first time in years with many law enforcement officers getting 10 percent raises, bringing their salaries more in line with the rest of the Southeast.  Medicaid is fully funded.  And, the House budget includes more than 170 of the Governor's cost-saving strategies, which require state agencies to operate more efficiently.

One very important aspect of this budget is that it completely restores forty of the trust funds from which money was borrowed over the last few years, including the Pinewood Fund, the Heritage Land Trust Fund, the Superb Fund, and the Patients Compensation Fund.  In addition, the budget puts $25 million back in the Barnwell Extended Care Maintenance Fund.  It is important that the General Assembly set a course to make sure that all trust funds are completely restored. 

A strong educational system is critical to a successful economy.  For our state to compete in the increasingly complex global economy, our citizens need top-notch training and academic preparation.  The rules to become successful are changing.  Most of today's jobs require higher-level skills and that means higher-level education.  As South Carolina continues to attract better, higher paying jobs, we must provide the skilled workforce to fill those jobs.

It all begins in the elementary, middle and high schools of our great state. While education initiatives will require additional resources from the state, the return on the investment will be significant and will help ensure prosperity for decades to come.

When the budget is debated in a couple of weeks by the full SC House of Representatives, you will hear state officials negotiate budget priorities. Some of us will make education our number one priority. Others will focus on paying back trust funds as the top initiative.  The bottom line is that both of these can and should be priorities.

It may look like a difficult choice to some, but it really isn't a choice at all. Our future depends on every South Carolinian contributing to the productivity of the state. We cannot afford to leave any child behind. It has been very gratifying to see everyone working so hard together on this budget.  This is the first time in a long time that we have seen such unified and overwhelming support from virtually everyone in the House of Representatives. Democrats, Republicans, men, women, veterans and newcomers alike are pulling together to ensure that South Carolina 's children are our top priority and are well prepared for the future.


New Legislation Would Tip the Scales in Favor of South Carolina's Children

New Legislation Would Tip the Scales in
Favor of South Carolina's Children

S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Chairman, House Ways & Means Committee

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States . The obesity rate in this nation rose 90 percent from 1990-2002. South Carolina is certainly not immune.

In fact, three out of every five adults in our state are either obese or overweight. That's 5 percent higher than the national average, making South Carolina the 42nd worst state in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Many of us in the General Assembly recognize these facts and realize that we simply must do something to curb this epidemic.  That's why we are introducing new legislation called the “Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005.”  The bill tips the scales in the favor of South Carolina 's youth with a renewed focus on physical education and well-rounded nutrition in our state's elementary schools.  It is co-sponsored by the leadership of the House of Representatives in both political parties.

Passing this bill is important because the problem of obesity often starts at an early age. Twenty-six percent of our low-income children age two to five are overweight, and studies show that about 50 percent of obese children will become obese adults.

A combination of insufficient exercise and poor nutrition is to blame. More than half of South Carolinians either don't get enough physical activity or are totally inactive. And, only 2 percent of school-age children meet the recommended minimum number of servings for all five food groups on the classic food pyramid.

According to the National Alliance of Nutrition and Activity, 25 percent of children ages five to ten have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other early warning signs of heart disease.  It's not just quality of life at stake – it is life itself.

Moreover, research by the National Institute of Health shows that inactivity has major implications on a child's academic performance.  Less active children tend to score lower on both reading and math standardized tests at the beginning of kindergarten, and their lower scores track into first grade and throughout their educational experience.

One of the most alarming statistics is the CDC's report that for the first time in over 100 years the current generation of people will have a lesser life span than the previous generation due to a sedentary lifestyle. Perhaps epidemic is an understatement.

Let's face it. Obesity does not happen overnight, and we cannot conquer it overnight. But we can take some immediate steps toward reversing this serious health risk that will bear fruit in both the long and short-term. For example, fitness experts say walking briskly 30 minutes a day could prevent 30 percent of obesity and 45 percent of Type II diabetes cases.  Even a 5 percent loss of body weight is associated with health benefits like improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. 

During the first year of this phase-in legislation all K-5 students will participate in a minimum of 75 minutes per week of instructional physical education by a certified physical education specialist. In the following years PE would increase to 120 minutes weekly for year two and to 150 minutes weekly by year three. Schools will designate a physical activity director to develop exercise programs, after school plans and other activities that promote a healthy lifestyle.  In addition, schools will undergo assessments to determine the degree to which students in K-12 schools meet the state physical education standards.

The Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005 also addresses vending machines in K-5 public spaces. Under this bill, schools may not provide Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value any time during the school day. That means no candy and soda. Beverage vending machines would still be allowed to sell products that contain 100 percent fruit juice or bottled water, and food vending machines would only be allowed to sell products that meet state and USDA guidelines as a healthy snack.

The Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005 also gives children more choices from the school's cafeteria in order to encourage them to eat school meals. Menu-review panels and online recipe reviewing encourages parent and student participation. Low-fat meal options, more fruit and vegetable choices, whole-grain food offerings, portion control and nutritional information on meals are also an integral part of this bill. Finally, school districts and individual schools will put in place Health Advisory Councils, and increased Nutrition Education will be mandatory for students in grades K-5.

The total fiscal impact of this bill is a little over $35 million a year when fully implemented, but that cost pales in comparison to our taxpayers' cost of obesity-attributable medical expenditures in SC.  In 2003, that was more than $1.1 billion, which includes as a part of that figure, $285 million in Medicaid funds and $242 million in Medicare funds, all paid by taxpayers. All in all, a Kenneth Thorp Emory University study reveals that more than a quarter of growth in health care spending over the past 15 years is attributable to obesity.

The Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005 can combat obesity, reduce costs – and ultimately help save lives. That's why dozens of states are introducing similar legislation that would examine or adjust physical education requirements in schools, nutritional content of school meals, and vending machine sales. Our children simply must learn how to eat right and be fit. We all want our children to live long, happy lives.  This is one important step to try to make sure they do.


Steering vehicle funds toward road projects makes sense

Steering vehicle funds toward road projects makes sense

S.C. Rep.

Bobby Harrell, Chairman House Ways & Means Committee

We've all experienced the rush-hour delays that result in longer commute times. We've all seen the accidents – many of them fatal. 

New legislation introduced in the General Assembly called
the “2005 Trust Fund for Maintenance of South Carolina Roads and Highways” paves the way for millions of dollars currently directed to the General Fund to be used to repair deteriorating highway infrastructure – without raising taxes for

South Carolinians .  I drafted this bill because I believe that if we do not keep up with road maintenance, in a few years, we will be forced to rebuild many of our roads.

The average driver spends an additional 32 hours a year in traffic today than in 1990. That's the equivalent of about four working days behind the wheel.

Almost 1,000 people die every year in motor vehicle accidents in

South Carolina — that's a full 50 percent higher than the national average, according to a recent report from The Road Information Program.

Vehicle travel has increased by around 38 percent over the past decade or so. It is past time for our state to make the necessary improvements to the highways and byways that many experts predict will see another 45 percent usage increase by 2020.

One-third of our state-maintained road system is already in poor condition and that means higher operating costs and commute-times for motorists, and more importantly, a loss of life.  The good news is that even simple improvements could significantly reduce traffic congestion and accidents.

The state's Department of Transportation (DOT) is continuously recognized as one of the most efficient highway departments in the country. However, its hands are virtually tied by lack of funds. 

It may surprise many to learn that our highway system receives 95 percent of its funding for maintenance and construction from the state's motor fuel tax. As our cars have become more fuel-efficient, revenues to the DOT, which maintains 65 percent of the state system, have remained relatively flat in the face of the huge increase in vehicle traffic.  DOT has not had the money to make desperately needed safety improvements to secondary roads, many of them in rural areas.

I do not support raising taxes – that is not the way to grow an economy and ensure that businesses thrive. That's why I've designed this bill to transfer the responsibility of caring for roads to fees and taxes already being paid by the people who are using the roads.  The legislation would redirect between $85 million and $90 million into a trust fund earmarked for repairs to secondary roads.  Over half of

South Carolina 's roadways fall into this category and are not eligible for federal aid.

How would we do it? It's a very straightforward process.  First, the bill reclaims vehicle registration fees for road use.  That totals about $5 million each year. The bill also puts driver's license fees and other vehicle fees revenue into road repairs. That's another $12 million per year. In addition, another $7 million from petroleum inspection fee revenue would be used for road maintenance.

But $24 million a year is still not enough. That's why the bill will put SUPERB Fund fees, a half-cent per gallon fee on all motor fuels, into roads. That's another $14 million a year. Add to that a reduction in the statewide cost allocation requirement for DOT, a $4.9 million fee, and we have even more funds available for roadwork. All in all, these initiatives would put nearly $90 million into repairing our state's roads and bridges over the next five years.
Let's face it. It's not just about commute times. When we as a state don't take care of our infrastructure, economic development suffers. We have a lot going for us as a transportation hub.  But, if companies can't rely on our transportation system to be well maintained, they will choose to do business elsewhere and

South Carolina will ultimately lose valuable jobs.

The statistics are clear. Ninety-two percent of the $103 billion worth of commodities delivered annually to and from sites in

South Carolina are transported on the state's highways, according to The Road Information Program, and commercial trucking in the state is projected to increase dramatically by 2020.

The problem, once again, is that right now the road repair money is not in the state budget, but I am convinced that it needs to be. We can get it there by redirecting road-related fees from the General Fund to the DOT to help maintain our roads in

South Carolina . It only makes sense.

Our roads did not get in this condition overnight and, likewise, the problem will not be fixed overnight. These vital funds will get us headed in the right direction. Keeping our citizens safe depends on it, and so does our ability to create jobs and continue economic expansion. Our roads in

South Carolina are in dire need of repair now.  It's the right time for us to take action.


Don't be misled by political attacks on the Hunley

Don't be misled by political attacks on the Hunley

S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Chairman
House Ways & Means Committee

If you can't convince a jury, try to confuse them.  That's an old joke about the strategy lawyers use when they have weak cases.

Sadly, that's the strategy the lawyer running against Senator Glenn McConnell is using in his campaign.  The recent Post-Courier article ("Hunley top issue in district 41 bid," October 12, 2004) illustrates the technique. 

Justin Kahn appears to be attacking the Hunley project.  In reality his motives are political.  By making a series of accusations, he hopes to confuse voters and damage Senator McConnell, who serves as chairman of the Hunley Commission, the group authorized to oversee the conservation of the Hunley. 

As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, I have followed the Hunley project closely.  By all accounts, the Hunley Commission is doing an excellent job.  So far, well over half the funds needed to pay for the recovery and conservation of the Hunley have been raised from private donations, which is certainly good news for taxpayers.  I don’t know of another project of this nature in South Carolina that has been this successful raising outside money.  Senator McConnell was adamant that he wanted as much private money as possible in the project.

Even the S.C. Association of Taxpayers (SCAT) an independent watchdog group, recently said, "critics who attack the Hunley project should be ashamed."  For his leadership in being a good steward of public funds, SCAT gave Glenn McConnell the "Friend of the Taxpayer" award.

We all know the story.  After being lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was found off the coast of Charleston.  With oversight by the Hunley Commission, the submarine was recovered, brought home intact, excavated and her eight crew members were buried.  Now an international team of scientists is at work conserving this amazing submarine for future generations.

The Hunley project is already giving a boost to our state's economy.  The Hunley is open for public tours only on weekends.  Even with such limited hours, over 200,000 visitors from 50 states and over 20 countries have traveled to the low country to view the Hunley, bringing with them millions of dollars for our economy.

I for one agree with the S.C. Association of Taxpayers, and I don't think the old lawyers' trick will work this time.  Voters are not likely to be convinced or confused.  We are grateful to Senator McConnell and the Friends of the Hunley for a job well done.

South Carolina?s Tough Budget Year Will Require Tough Decisions

South Carolina’s Tough Budget Year Will Require Tough Decisions

By, Robert W. Harrell, Jr.
Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, The South Carolina House of Representatives

This year, South Carolina is facing one of our toughest budget years in a generation.  As the General Assembly begins this legislative session, each House member needs to hear from the people they represent to discuss and comment on the budget.  Your opinion matters because each year our state government spends over five billion dollars of our tax money.  You should have an opinion about where it goes.  Your voice should serve as a guide to legislators during these difficult times.

As we face this tough fiscal year, it is important to note that South Carolina is one of many states facing these types of problems.  All across the country state economies have been hit hard.  Almost all states have had to dramatically reduce spending, and half of the states have had to enact mid-year budget cuts.  Nearly every state is in fiscal straits and given the outlook for next year, the most serious impacts have yet to be realized.  South Carolina has, like most other states, tapped reserve funds, reduced programs, implemented targeted and across the board cuts, and delayed capital projects. 
Even with all of this, spending pressures have remained while revenues have continued to shrink.  The strongest pressures have been in Medicaid and health care spending increases.  It would be helpful if the federal government would allow greater flexibility in how we administer Medicaid programs in South Carolina, but the federal government should not be expected to bail us out.  We have to keep our own house in order.

There are many demands for next year.  Of course, we first must pay back part of our reserve fund that we used this year (over $100 million), pay for past commitments in last year’s budget from having used one-time money for on-going Medicaid and education programs (nearly $200 million).  In addition, estimates place expected education inflationary growth at over $100 million, the Education Accountability Act at $50 million, and expected Medicaid growth and other Health and Human Service program increases totaling well over $100 million.  That’s over $550 million in “new” dollars for just education and health care.  We could easily list another $500 million in items the General Assembly will consider funding at the prisons, Highway Patrol, SLED, and all the rest of state government.  Despite all of this, we do not expect any appreciable growth in revenue this year.  Because of this reality, any of these increases in spending that are implemented will require a corresponding cut somewhere else in the budget.

So what are we to do?  It is inevitable that agency cuts will be on the table once again; the question will be how much at each agency.  We have to set priorities and make sure we continue the most important programs, while allowing those that do not make the cut to be eliminated.  It does not make sense to bleed each and every program just to keep all of them operating.  We need agencies to perform their priorities well, and not attempt to do all things.  To give you some perspective, we would have to eliminate from the budget an amount of money equal to over TWENTY TIMES the funding the Department of Natural Resources receives just to realize enough recurring funds to pay for the $550 million referenced above. 

It is important that we continue the budget reforms that we began when the Senate leadership switched to the Republicans a few years back.  Our efforts with the Senate have substantially reduced the rate of growth in state government.  In addition, Governor Sanford will find a receptive audience in his efforts to use zero based budgeting practices to find inefficiencies in agencies.  We have already begun such work at the Divison of Motor Vehicles and are currently conducting a long-term base budget review of Medicaid.  The zero-based budget method is good for an initial review of an agency’s budget, but our real emphasis should be on the results an agency is producing, and whether those results warrant continuing the funding.   Such budget reforms will take a major commitment by the General Assembly to forgo its usual method of incremental spending where it spends small amounts of new money on new programs each year.  We must look more carefully at everything each agency is currently doing, and we must demand more accountability.

Several members of the General Assembly have made it clear that they intend to make increasing cigarette taxes a major theme of discussion and debate this upcoming session.  These legislators will argue that this tax is not actually a tax, but rather is a user fee.  A tax by any other name is still a tax.  We will and should have this discussion, but we should be straightforward about it.  If the General Assembly decides to seek increases in these areas, it is very important that we seek reforms on how we currently spend money on health care.  It is difficult to think we would just raise cigarette taxes by $170 million and not demand a fundamental change in how we pay for Medicaid.  If we don’t, then next year we are likely to face another $100 million increase in Medicaid needs. 

As you can see, this next session will be one of the toughest we have faced in many years.  South Carolina has seen some difficult times in our history: the civil war, reconstruction, earthquakes and hurricanes.  As a state, we got through those times, and we will get through these.  We will have to take some very serious actions over the next few months and years, but for those actions to be effective they must be within a whole new understanding of how government works.  Government must be accountable for the services it delivers to the taxpayers who pay for them.  You should expect nothing anything less and as your representatives we have to make that happen.  I look forward to continuing this dialog with the readers of this paper.  We are in this together.

South Carolina Government Must Live Within Its Means Even in a Tough Budget Year

South Carolina Government Must Live Within Its Means Even in a Tough Budget Year

Robert W. Harrell, Jr.
Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee

South Carolina House of Representatives

In about a month the South Carolina General Assembly will return to

Columbia .  As the session gets underway, we are facing one of the toughest budget years in anyone’s memory.  Our state’s Board of Economic Advisors met in November and significantly lowered their estimate of revenue for this year by $322 million. 

South Carolina has not seen a drop in revenue like this in decades.

Since the budget was written last session, our state has experienced a revenue shortfall mainly due to the worse than expected slowdown in the economy.  It was already slowing down and then the September eleventh tragedy happened.  The bottom fell out of the tourism industry which badly affected sales tax revenue.  When all of this happened, the Budget and Control Board implemented across the board budget cuts of 4%.  The law required that mid-year cuts be done uniformly and across the board.  Those cuts only dealt with the current year’s budget.  Because of these shortfalls, the Governor and General Assembly will have to cut between $300 and $400 million from the budget for the next fiscal year. 

In the face of this shortfall, the Republicans could blame the Governor and Democrats.  The Democrats could blame the Republicans.  However, it is time to set partisanship aside and face this problem.  As we find ourselves in this position, the real issue is how are we going to deal with it? 

There are only two options for dealing with this problem.  They are to cut the budget or raise taxes.  Thankfully, the South Carolina Constitution requires a balanced budget, so deficit spending should not be an option.  There may be people who will try gimmicks that are really deficit spending to get through this problem, but I believe we must stay true to the requirements of our Constitution.

Before long, you will begin to hear from all over

South Carolina that the easiest way to deal with this problem will be to raise taxes.  One penny of sales tax in

South Carolina generates over $500 million of revenue.  Adding that penny, some will argue, will give the state enough revenue to cover the shortfall and have additional money to spend.  While that is true, I believe it would be a mistake for us to raise taxes to spend our way out of this problem.

It would be a mistake to raise taxes for several reasons.  First of all, you do not raise taxes in a bad economy.  Raising taxes at this time would slow our recovery from this economic downturn.  Secondly,

South Carolina ’s General Fund budget is over $5.3 billion a year.  We already spend a great deal of money in this state each year. 

Our state spends over $2.7 billion each year on education.  That is over half of the general fund budget.  Education has been the priority of state government for the last several years.  Even in a tough year, our commitment to education is solid.  We are getting results from the money we spend.  Over the last three years, SAT scores have increased in our state by 23 points.  Last year we had the third highest increase in SAT scores in the nation.  The year before that we tied for the highest SAT score increase in the nation.  
Our state spends over $1 billion each year on health care.  When you add the federal money that flows through our budget that becomes over $5 billion a year.  Because of that money, there are more poor children and poor elderly people in our state receiving quality health care than ever before. 

Our state spends about $400 million on prisons.  A few years ago, your General Assembly passed a law that abolished parole for violent criminals.  Because of that law, the amount of violent crime has gone down and the prison population has gone up.  I believe most of us are pleased with that law, and would prefer that the criminals stay in prison. 

The point is that there is a lot of good being done with the tax dollars we all pay, but

South Carolina must live within our means.  Raising taxes to solve this problem is not the answer.   When the economy slows down, businesses in our state cannot simply decide to increase what their customers must pay.  Our state should operate more like a business and decrease expenses when the economy slows down. 

South Carolina
has seen much tougher times than we are about to experience.  Our state has seen earthquakes, hurricanes, the great depression, and wars on our own soil.  Those problems were much worse than what we face this year.  What’s important as we deal with this difficult year, is that we stay focused on the things that really matter.  Education must continue to be our priority.  Also, we must identify those things that citizens cannot do for themselves, like law enforcement, and make that a priority.  We must take care of these priorities and write a budget that lives within our means, without raising taxes.  I believe we can do that, and I believe we will.