In recent weeks your South Carolina House of Representatives has been primarily focused on the goal of approving a new budget, with more available money than our state has ever had. Moreover, the House made quick work of it in a bipartisan manner, with a vote of 108-7.
We approved nearly $14 billion, then sent our plan over to the Senate March 15 for their review – which is expected to take several more weeks.
As noted in my previous columns here, the legislature is enjoying an unprecedented amount of money to spend in 2022. This has been due to the recent booming economy across our state impacted by our population growth, further boosted by federal stimulus dollars and funds that we have saved over the past two years as a hedge against any shortfalls that might have occurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About $3 billion of the total is in one-time money.
In addition to income tax relief of $600 million, the major spending of the House plan will be on roads and raises.
The plan, which would go into effect on July 1, calls for approximately $1 billion in new spending on roads, including the widening of I-95 here in the Lowcountry, and on I-26 from north of Columbia to Charleston.
According to SCDOT projections, the additional money should cut the time that was expected to be spent on highway construction from over 15 years to just 7 or 8 years.
The approved budget also includes a 3% raise and one-time $1,500 bonus for all state employees plus additional raises for state law enforcement and correctional officers. We allocated $230 million to increase the minimum starting pay of teachers, regardless of experience, by $4,000. This includes increasing the minimum starting teacher pay in every school district to at least $40,000.
While plans about how we would be spending our 2022 budget are underway, it should also be of interest to our community that House Bill H-3538, introduced by Beaufort’s Rep. Shannon Erickson and me, was passed unanimously 108-0 to establish humane taking and disposition of alligators.
The bill was in direct response to an uproar on Hilton Head Island following an incident in early summer 2020 when a massive 12-foot alligator was dragged from a lagoon at the Legendary Mini-Golf on William Hilton Parkway near Palmetto Dunes.
The incident caused a circus-like atmosphere at the time with spectators, including children, getting involved and riding atop the tied-up gator while others took videos and snapshots that soon appeared on social media channels across the United States and beyond. Our residents were very concerned about the inhumane treatment of the alligator – as was I – not to mention the negative publicity for our community. So when the legislature came back in session, I pre-filled a bill and then with Rep. Erickson introduced it this past fall.
The new bill sets more humane standards for disposing of alligators and tougher misdemeanor penalties for those who feed or molest the animals – with fines from $500 to $1,000 and/or jail for up to 30 days.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.