At this time, it is likely that we will remain in session until September. What started the second Tuesday in January has become an extraordinary and unusual session.
The COVID-19 hurricane has blown through South Carolina with the force of Hugo and Matthew combined. It has dominated our legislative agenda as we have done our best to balance the medical and economic consequences of this pandemic.
In truth, we were well on the way to a predictably productive session, with a good, balanced budget, formulated and passed, when Hurricane Covid arrived.
Immediately, our budget became irrelevant, to be replaced with a recently passed continuing resolution, which funds the government at current levels, as we wait as the Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) sorts through our dispiriting economic data. They will help us see what the next budget will need to look like, probably by mid-September.
With an eye toward our upcoming election, we also passed a measure temporarily loosening the requirements for absentee ballot requests, so as to keep the polling places less crowded, and safer. We also have passed a measure providing for more testing, as well as more solutions to contain the virus.
Our most difficult decisions have been how to balance the need to protect the health of our people, especially the more vulnerable older folks, with the necessity to incrementally reopen our economy. As a man of faith, who knows the importance of jobs and commerce, it was often excruciating.
While this is a difficult time, my first reading of the economic data was a little better than I expected. There is a positive angle that also has to do with a member of our Beaufort-Jasper delegation. It’s a pretty good story.
The story came to me indirectly from Brian White, who was chairman of Ways and Means Committee for many years. It had to do with my friend Bill Herbkersman, from the time before he was a big dog in the House.
Bill was appointed to Ways and Means about 12 or 14 years ago. During his first meeting, he noticed that our state had no “rainy day” fund. He was beside himself with disappointment and amazement.
Against the overwhelming majority of the committee, he insisted we needed to address the matter. Debate ensued – heated debate.
Because we were just coming out of a period of economic dislocation, members were not keen to set aside significant dollars when immediate needs were pressing.
Nonetheless, at the end of the “negotiations” we had a “rainy day” fund. Today, that fund contains $522 million. We will soon add another $136 million, along with $50 million for resiliency, which is essentially our co-pay when FEMA shows up for our next hurricane or flood.
Takeaway: Even with Hurricane COVID-19, we probably will not need a tax increase. All because of who Chairman Brian White dubbed “the lone ranger.” Fortunately for us taxpayers, he was where he was, when he was, and was disinclined to back down when he knew he was right. Fortunately for Bill, those monikers have a relatively short shelf life.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov