South Carolina’s new fiscal year began this past week (July 1), and our state is in a lot better shape financially than I believe most pundits would have expected 12 months ago.
My view is that we can thank two key state leaders for this good fortune. The first is Gov. Henry McMaster, who boldly set forth several conservative and judicious initiatives over the past 18 months, and the second is Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, who kept a steady hand on the legislative helm in the face of vocal resistance.
Despite a devastating pandemic that financially crippled many other states across the nation, South Carolina intentionally kept much of our economy largely operational. Government spending was held to 2019 levels, and we avoided raising taxes or borrowing money while not cutting services. It was quite an accomplishment, and now South Carolina finds itself as the 10th fastest-growing state in the nation.
In the General Assembly, we worked diligently to navigate unchartered waters as COVID-19 seriously challenged our public health system, state school system, and thousands of small and large businesses in ways we could not have comprehended.
Our success has left us with the ability to put together an extremely meaningful $11 billion budget – the largest in state history – toward achieving the future success of South Carolina by improving educational opportunities at all levels.
Indeed, the focus on education makes up a substantial portion of the new budget. We will be spending sufficient money to allow every eligible youngster to go to 4K, a vital program for 4- and 5-year-olds to gain reading, phonics and math skills from certified instructors.
The budget also offers every school across the state to hire a nurse and a school resource officer. It will cover a $1,000 pay raise for teachers and provide incentives for colleges and technical schools to freeze tuition.
I’m informed that leadership in the General Assembly received a commitment from every South Carolina institution of higher education that they would hold the line on tuition increases. Additionally, we will be putting more than $260 million for maintenance and renovations at these public universities and technical schools.
In other areas, the budget also provides more money for upgrading rural broadband service, providing a 2.5% pay raise for state employees and $200 million to improve the Port of Charleston.
I strongly supported, and was very pleased that we are putting aside $600 million into a “rainy day fund” in case of economic hardships. This is the kind of conservative approach that gets us off the unpredictable, roller-coaster that South Carolina has experienced in past decades where we ride the economy during the good times and then have to cut the budget when things turn down.
I am pleased this 2021-2022 budget has been built on a foundation of protecting taxpayers with a renewed commitment of being resourceful and efficient with our tax dollars and providing value for every dollar we spend.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.