S.C. House Majority Leader Gary Simrill will lead the House Ways and Means Committee’s higher education panel, which could decide next year to give S.C. colleges and universities more state money to help keep down rising tuition costs.
Meanwhile, for the first time in years, a Democrat — state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston — will chair a subcommittee on the budget-writing committee in the House, which is overwhelmingly Republican.
Simrill, R-York, previously chaired the budget-writing committee’s panel on economic development and natural resources. He succeeds former higher education chair Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg, who did not seek re-election and since has been hired by USC Upstate.
“This is an opportunity for higher education to be accountable and to make sure the Legislature is living up to its end,” Simrill said Wednesday. “This is an opportunity to build bridges and build consensus.”
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That bridge-building includes the until-recently contentious relationship between S.C. Commission on Higher Education and lawmakers and college leaders, who have bickered over state spending and steadily rising tuition costs.
Last month, Gov. Henry McMaster named former state Sen. Wes Hayes to chair the embattled commission. Its former chair resigned amid legislative pressure over a pay raise given the agency’s director, who also subsequently resigned.
Hayes, like Simrill, is from York County.
New House Ways and Means chairman Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, also named:
▪ State Rep. Bruce Banninster, R-Greenville, to chair the new constitutional subcommittee.
▪ State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, to chair the transportation and regulatory subcommittee.
▪ State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, to chair the proviso subcommittee, which vets spending proposals that are for one year only.
▪ State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, to chair the health care subcommittee.
▪ State Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, to chair the law enforcement subcommittee.
▪ Stavrinakis to chair the economic development subcommittee.
▪ State Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Oconee, to chair the K-12 public education subcommittee.
“I am up to it,” said Finlay, who added on Wednesday he plans to make the process transparent as the proviso subcommittee chair. “I appreciate Chairman Smith’s willingness to give it a shot. I really appreciate the chairman’s confidence and the speaker’s (Jay Lucas, R-Darlington) confidence.”