Politics & Government

May 31, 2014

The Buzz: SC road repair bill could crash, die

S.C. lawmakers don’t have much time left to get their work done – three days.

S.C. lawmakers don’t have much time left to get their work done – three days.

They have yet to pass a budget for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1, an item that will take priority when it hits the floor of the S.C. House and state Senate early this week.

Thus far, much of the debate about spending has been about expanding the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program and how much taxpayer money to give local governments. But little debate has centered on finding new money to repair the state’s crumbling roads.

Last year, lawmakers took a small step toward addressing the problem, giving roads more than $500 million. But officials estimate it will take up to $29 billion in additional state money by 2033 to fix the state’s roads.

This week, however, lawmakers likely will do nothing about the issue before they drive home for the year on those roads.

That’s despite the May addition of $86 million to the state’s budget due to higher-than-expected revenue, funds that Gov. Nikki Haley calls the “money tree” and says should be used for roads.

One legislative proposal attempts to address the problem, but it will likely crash and die.

State Sen. Raymond Cleary, R-Georgetown, has pushed to direct an additional $41 million to roads from money the state now collects in sales taxes on cars, 5 percent of a vehicle’s cost or $300, whichever is less.

Cleary’s bill also has several amendments, including a proposed increase in the state’s gas tax for roads, an idea that makes a lot of senators’ stomachs turn.

Other bills don’t have much of a chance of passing either as the Legislature enters the last week of its two-year session.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would bar abortion after 19 weeks of pregnancy, probably will not pass. Efforts to make the state superintendent of education appointed by the governor, instead of elected, also probably will fail.

But a couple of bills in conference committee have a chance, including a watered-down ethics reform bill that would require lawmakers to disclose all the sources of their income and that of their immediate family members, ban candidates from having ties to political action committees, and redefine political committees so they have to disclose their campaign activities.

A conference committee also is trying to work out the differences between House and Senate proposals to ban texting while driving.

The Senate’s proposal would ban texting by drivers who have beginner’s permits or restricted driving licenses. The House’s amended bill would ban all texting on the state’s wrecked roads.

Lawmakers will come back to Columbia for what could be a three-day session on June 17 to take up any vetoes issued by Haley. At that time, they also can take up recommendations on bills now before conference committees.

Other proposals, including the controversial car sales tax bill, likely will die at 5 p.m. Thursday. As Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, put it: “We’re out of there.”

Psst, Sheri, it takes press to have a press conference – not ants

When Sheri Few, a Lugoff Republican running for state schools chief, had a problem with The State newspaper’s account of a debate last week, she staged a news conference in the grassy shoulder of the paper’s driveway.

From the media, sigh, only The Buzz attended.

Few made her remarks. Then, The Buzz explained that Few was misleading the public when she accused Meka Childs, a former state Education Department deputy superintendent also running for superintendent, of illegally forcing on the state science standards that the General Assembly explicitly had outlawed.

Few conceded the state has not adopted the outlawed Next Generation Science Standards. But she still is convinced that state standards’ writers got around the legislative ban by adopting standards very similar to the illegal standards.

Her proof? Few says S.C. standards writers looked at the same national guidelines as the people who wrote the Next Generation standards, causing the two to be similar.

Education leaders, including Childs, say it is legal in South Carolina to look at the science framework developed by the National Research Council.

And, Childs added, facts are facts, and that explains the similarities between the two sets of science standards. “The molecular structure of water is the molecular structure of water.”

Trying to avoid any similarities with other science standards would lead to “our state having to come up with, effectively, our own science,” said Childs of West Columbia. “I don’t think that’s what our General Assembly intended.”

Few said the General Assembly sought to protect the state from Next Generation, already being challenged elsewhere for teaching evolution, which, she says, is the same as teaching atheism.

All ended well at the news conference that almost didn’t happen due to others in attendance.

Before Few got started, a line of fire ants marched up her legs, attempting to thwart the whole thing.

(Thank goodness the candidates’ companions and The Buzz pointed out the critters so Few could brush them off.)

Buzz bites

When future Medal of Honor recipient Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter visited the S.C. Senate on Wednesday, President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, a former Marine who served six years on active and reserve duty, was among those touched.

Courson presented the Gilbert Marine, who is about to receive the nation’s highest military honor, with his personal Marine Corps desk flag. “It was absolutely emotional,” Courson said.

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