Political Column

By Mark Cothran
December 31, 2012

The 2013 South Carolina legislative session is shaping up to be an interesting one with several high-profile issues on the table and many new faces in the State House. The 2012 elections have given the General Assembly quite a makeover as we will see 10 new members in the S.C Senate, and 20 new members in the S.C. House of Representatives.

As in years past, priorities can change with the wind at the State House. For now, there are several issues that are expected to be at the forefront of debate during the 2013 session, including:

·       Economic Development – Look for legislation providing incentives to attract private capital for start-up companies, and initiatives to improve the civil litigation climate in South Carolina to surface during this session.

·       Election Reform – After last year’s election cycle where over 200 candidates were kicked off of the ballot, we can expect the legislature to make some changes in our state’s election laws regarding the candidate filing process.

·       Ethics Reform – In addition to the Governor’s newly formed S.C. Ethics Reform Commission, both the House and Senate are working on their own ethics reform proposals. Legislators point out that it has been nearly 20 years since they last passed ethics reform legislation. One of the largest changes is the widespread adoption of email and other technologies that weren’t widely used in the early 1990s.

·       Government Restructuring – During the past two years, the General Assembly has spent time debating a Department of Administration bill, but has failed to agree upon legislation in both chambers. This has been one of Gov. Nikki Haley’s priorities since taking office, so expect it to be debated again this year.

·       Infrastructure Funding – This is fast becoming the state business community’s top priority for 2013. South Carolina spends an average of $15,000 per mile on its roads, while Georgia spends $35,000 per mile, and North Carolina spends more than $150,000. We have not seen a dedicated revenue increase for our state’s infrastructure since 1987. With South Carolina’s population increasing, tourism increasing, and the S.C. Ports Authority expecting port volumes to double to more than two million containers by 2025, now is the time to act.

·       Medicaid Expansion –The June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has allowed states to decide if they want to expand their Medicaid rolls. The expansion of Medicaid would force South Carolina to cover all people ages 18-64 whose income is up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 annually. Gov. Haley has already said that South Carolina won’t accept the expansion, but this is sure to be a hot topic of debate during the state budget process. According to S.C. Department of Health and Human Service Director Anthony Keck, the best estimate is that 510,000 additional South Carolinians would enroll in Medicaid if the expansion is accepted. The federal government would pay for 100% of the cost for the expansion from 2014-2016, with South Carolina paying a portion of the cost in 2017 and beyond.

·       State Budget – Last year, the General Assembly passed a $6.7 billion general fund budget, and legislators had the luxury of deciding how to spend a large surplus. They did several positive things with the surplus dollars, including fully funding the estimated amount of state and federal dollars to dredge the Port of Charleston ($300 million). This year’s projections don’t look as bright thus far in terms of a surplus, so expect more debate on where to allocate dollars and how funds should be used.

·       Tax Reform – The General Assembly began to discuss comprehensive tax reform last year, but with the exception of a reduction in a tax rate for small businesses, not a lot of action was taken. Business properties pay the seventh highest property taxes and South Carolina manufacturers currently pay the highest industrial property taxes in the nation. Look for the debate and discussion to continue this session.

·       Workforce Development – The General Assembly realizes that developing a highly-skilled and well-educated workforce is critical to increasing job opportunities for South Carolina citizens. This may be a hot topic in 2013.  Taking programs such as WorkKeys statewide and fully funding ReadySC and Smart State are critical. At the early childhood education level, First Steps will be up for reauthorization in 2013.  

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