need to fully fund education for the students of South Carolina.
We've been working too hard to improve education and we can't
go backwards now. The children deserve an education and our
elected officials were charged with doing the right thing
for children. Forget about the politics and get on with educating
Carol Tempel, James Island More.
your feedback. If you'd like to respond to something in SC
Statehouse Report, please send us an e-mail. We reserve
the right to edit for length and clarity. One submission allowed
per month. Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:
Lawmakers next year
to start off behind
SC Statehouse Report
JUNE 8, 2003 - - Even though the 2003 legislative session is freshly
over, lawmakers will return next year with their plates already
Part of the reason is this year's obsession with the lean budget
- - a $5.3 billion behemoth that saw huge cuts to most state agencies.
Part of the reason is time ran out in the last-day dash to finish
work on several bills. And part of the reason is rising partisanship
and inner-party bickering.
Lawmakers started the year with an unhealthy economic situation
that caused an atmosphere of cuts and frustration that, for some,
led to resentment.
"It started off with a derailment," said State Sen. John
Courson, R-Richland. "Then we had a train wreck. Then we had
multiple train wrecks. And then we had train wrecks on the trestles
that are now collapsing.
"But at least we didn't secede and we didn't declare war on
anyone," he joked.
Next year's session already doesn't look much rosier. Here's a
short list of what likely will be legislative priorities in 2004:
Budget. Because lawmakers this year used a lot of one-time
money to shore up increases in Medicare and to offset some cuts
to education, they'll start the next budget process about $300 million
behind. In other words, because they used one-time federal bailout
money, they'll have to figure out a way to find revenue to replace
that money to keep programs running at the same level. Otherwise,
Medicaid and school programs could be cut next year.
State Sen. Tom Moore, D-Aiken, criticized Republican reliance on
the "Washington red-ink" bailout and use non-recurring
"If that's fiscal conservatism, I don't think the people of
South Carolina can handle much more fiscal conservatism."
Tax policy. Because of the dependence this year on one-time
funds, legislative leaders likely will look to some kind of tax
policy overhaul to allow the government to streamline and generate
some new revenues. This year, measures to raise the cigarette tax
in one form or another couldn't muster enough support. By next year,
the idea may find more favor unless the economy picks up and allows
the state generates new revenues from growth.
Medicaid reform. Republicans and some Democrats want to
cut waste, screen recipients and make reforms to cut costs for Medicaid.
Because costs rise astronomically every year to fund the program,
lawmakers believe reform to the process - - which can be translated
as cutting services for many and cutting benefits for some who may
make too much money to receive the benefit - - can make it more
Tort reform, business measures. State business leaders want
reforms to the tort system to limit the threat of frivolous lawsuits
and cap damages, but they'll face an uphill battle with the state's
lawyers. Meanwhile, lawmakers again will try to codify employment
at-will measures that currently are standard practice due to case
Higher education. In the waning minutes of this year's legislative
session, Sen. John Kuhn, R-Charleston, held up a measure that would
have allowed colleges and universities to borrow to build infrastructure
for research and other measures. Legislators likely will renew efforts
to provide regulatory relief and create a pool of money to help
universities and communities attract biotech companies.
Restructuring. Gov. Mark Sanford proposed several measures
to tighten government operations this year. Critics say his ideas
need a lot of work because reform efforts would be little more than
moving deck chairs on the Titanic. But next year's session likely
will include a long look at things to rework how government is organized.
Public Service Commission. For the second session in a row,
the legislature has bickered over elections to the state Public
Service Commission. The House and Senate continue to butt heads
over qualifications required for commissioners. Next year, maybe
they'll get around to agreeing on rules and electing commissioners.