LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: A message from Senator Kevin L. Johnson District 36- Clarendon, Darlington, Florence, and Sumter Counties
With approximately five weeks to go in this legislative session, the Senate is finally making progress on some of the issues that I predicted would be our major priorities when we began in January.
After several years, the Senate finally passed and sent to the House an ethics reform bill, which among other things requires legislators to disclose all sources of income. Another part of this bill realigns the SC Ethics Commission and allows it to investigate allegations against legislators. Hopefully, we will go further before the end of the session and deal with “dark money” by requiring the source and the amount so that we will at least know who is funding elections and at what amount. Although I don’t feel that the bill goes far enough, it is still a vast improvement over what we have now.
The Senate also passed and sent to the House a farm aid bill that provides $40 million to aid farmers who experienced substantial hardships as a result of the floods that we experienced this past October. Although it appears that the governor is poised to veto this bill, the support seems to be there to override a veto if necessary.
The Senate also passed a roads bill and although the bill does not provide all of the funding that SC Department of Transportation needs to fully address our hazardous road conditions, it is much better than what I thought we could get done just a few weeks ago. The senate bill provides $200 million in state revenue that will be used to borrow $2.2 billion over the next ten years that will allow us to fix roads and 400 bridges. Additional funds will be budgeted and sent to the counties that will allow for the repair of even more state roads.
Debate has just begun on the Senate Finance Committee version of the state budget. Although the total budget is approximately $28 billion, our debate centers around the $7.5 billion general fund portion of the budget. Some highlights are an increase of $27.5 million to the Local Government Fund which increases this allotment to $240 million. It also allows for a 4% cost of living adjustment for state employees and fully funds the increase in their health insurance premiums. In addition, $5 million dollars is included to help fund the world class African American Museum that will be built in Charleston.
Public education benefited in this budget also, by increasing the base student cost from $2220.00 to $2350 per weighted pupil unit. $28 million is included for new school buses and $19.2 million for bus driver salaries. Teachers receive a total cost of living adjustment of 4%. Also included in this budget are funds that will help rural and poor school districts in response to the school funding equity lawsuit (i.e. The Allendale Case).
There are many other important aspects included in this proposed budget and I will highlight all of them in my June newsletter since we will have a final budget by then.
Please remember to visit www.scsenate.gov to see the bills that I have sponsored and co-sponsored as well as to receive more information about the aforementioned bills. As always, please feel free to contact me at any time that I may be of service. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Sen. Kevin L. Johnson, PO Box 142, Columbia, SC 29202 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashley Stewart - Administrative Assistant---Office Telephone: (803) 212- 6048