The 124th session of the South Carolina General Assembly got fully underway this past month – with legislators in both the House and Senate working full steam ahead on their priorities.
Gov. Henry McMaster has his priorities as well, and he spelled them out clearly in his 50-minute “State of the State” address Jan. 12 in what most of us felt was an upbeat forecast for South Carolina in 2021.
It was a hopeful future painted by our governor. He pointed to the fact that during 2020 “our state took the road less-traveled” – and he termed it “a better road where we slowed down but safely remained open.” He declared: “Our reasonable steps of limited, measured and temporary actions allowed us to combat the virus without crippling our state’s economy.”
Gov. McMaster also lauded the General Assembly’s fiscal action during the pandemic-impacted 2020 session.
McMaster stated: “By freezing new spending and holding state government steady at 2019 spending levels, our state has been able to avoid cutting services, raising taxes or borrowing money.” And, as a result, he said, “South Carolina today is in a stronger financial position than virtually every other state in the USA.”
Much of the governor’s speech was related to his proposed budget that had been made public several days earlier. It is a plan whereby we legislators should set aside $500 million in a “rainy day fund” for economic uncertainties rather than sending rebates to taxpayers as has been proposed in past years. As he noted, and I agree, “we must be prepared for any future economic uncertainties should they occur.”
Even with Gov. McMaster’s overall optimism, he indicated that we must continue to be fiscally conservative and careful as we have been in the past. Many outside observers have taken note of the fact that South Carolina is among just three states in the South and Southeast that didn’t have to make budget cuts this past year.
In addition to the governor’s call for setting aside $500 million, among his other key priorities outlined were the following:
• $123 million in additional financial help for South Carolina’s small businesses and nonprofits that were hit hardest by COVID-19 and have the paperwork to show why. (This expands the initial $65 million that was set aside last year which proved to be far less than the need.)
• Expansion of 4-year-old kindergarten.
• Expansion of broadband internet to rural areas across the state so that students and parents can effectively work from home.
• A call for students to be back in the classroom five days a week where there would be a nurse, school resource officer and mental health counselor always readily available to them.
• His strong support of the Heartbeat bill and the importance of school choice for parents.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.