The second half of the current session of the South Carolina General Assembly got underway the second Tuesday of January. We got our organizational business out of the way and are hard at it.
Our agenda is long, and each of the needs is pressing. We will be known as the Reform Assembly if we get even half of our needed reforms accomplished.
The first thing out of the box is reform of the much-maligned Department of Transportation (DOT), along with its funding and prioritization arm, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB). The House passed and sent to the Senate a measure that did exactly that before we adjourned in late June.
In fact, our bill also featured diverse funding approaches for roads, as well as an income tax reduction demanded by the governor to offset any increase in revenue for roads. It is presently mired in the Senate.
As you might remember, as chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC), I insisted that all our proceedings be televised via SCETV. Our most recent agency to be investigated was the above mentioned DOT.
I am hopeful that among those watching will be some members of the Senate, as the volume of testimony we took was different in its particulars, but the adamant consensus among those who spoke before us urged fundamental reform. They also laid out the case for why the reform was a matter of high urgency.
Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, speaking for the business community, was unusually blunt in his comments on the need for change. He also presented a jobs scenario that would be an outcome of thoughtful reform and increased funding.
Mike Covington, speaking for the Coastal Conservation League, suggested that the SIB board be abolished and its bonding responsibilities be folded into the DOT.
He also said that applications should be standardized, and prioritization criteria be refined and undue political influence be minimized by mandating the governor appoint the DOT board.
If Mr. Covington seems vaguely familiar, it is because at one time he was the legislative liaison for the DOT. He is more than passing familiar with these issues.
In my view, it would have been preferable to tackle ethics reform prior to any of the subsequent matters, for the simple reason that the configuration of the ethics law should aid in the reform of the other pieces, especially as we get into the all-important details.
The House passed an Omnibus Ethics Bill last year that would greatly aid in not only structuring a coherent road building regime, but also the pension reform we are facing, as well as reform of Eminent Domain, and our current method of judicial selection. The Omnibus Ethics Bill is presently mired in the Senate.
Those who know me will tell you I am not a patient person, but I am relentlessly optimistic. We will face and defeat these political challenges. We have no choice.
What really disturbs my rest is something much more profound. My oldest child is now a licensed driver.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.