COMMUNITY UPDATE: April 2011

Be sure to pick up your weekly copy of The Irmo News to see weekly Legislative Updates, focused on activity inside the State House. Representative Huggins and I rotate columns each week in order to keep you informed! As always, I try to write a community update each month here on Nathan’s News to also keep you informed what’s going on here in Irmo/Chapin/Ballentine/White Rock/Dutch Fork area.

I want to thank those volunteers who helped deliver over 5,000 flyers to your newspaper boxes recently regarding the Budget Debate and other community information! Staying in touch is the best way I know to do the job you sent me to do. In this month’s update below, I’m asking you for feedback on an issue dealing with jobs; specifically here in the Midlands of SC. Please share your advice/opinions.

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STATE HOUSE
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In March, the House took our first furlough break after approving our version of next year’s state budget. We took March 22-24 as furlough days which saves the state approximately $50,000. Yes, that’s not a lot but with state employees taking furloughs, we can too. We also plan to furlough 3 more days later this month (April 19-21). I’ve shared information about the House’s version of the budget below in the YOUR MONEY section. For the rest of this STATE HOUSE section, I’ll list a few of the bills we passed since February.

As always, you can go here and type the bill number for the complete text of the bill or you can contact me for any questions or status of the legislation. Bills must pass both bodies (in the same format) before going to the Governor for her signature, veto, or no action within 5 days.

S 345 Waiver of School Snow Days
H 3241 Charter Schools
H 3070 Constitutional Amendment: Appoint Superintendent of Education?
H 3152 Constitutional Amendment: Joint Election of Governor and Lt. Governor?
H 3066 SC Restructuring Act of 2011: Department of Administration
H 3410 SC Higher Education Efficiency Act
H 3368 Spending Limitations Act (again)
H 3716 Education Finance Act of 2011 (finally)
H 3004 “Roll-Call Voting” (on to Governor’s desk after minor Senate amendment)
S 434 Medicaid Provider Rate flexibility (on to Governor’s desk)

I would like to mention that Redistricting will take up a fair amount of time in the General Assembly later this year. Every 10 years, our state reviews population figures to determine district lines in House, Senate and US Congress. This year SC will pick up a 7th Congressional seat. Closer to home, our community has approximately 45,000 people which is roughly 8,000 more than the 2012 House Districts will represent.

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YOUR MONEY
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The budget debate was one of the shortest in my career (3 days). There’s much I could write but instead I’ll simply cut/paste from the Legislative Update at www.scstatehouse.gov so you can see an unbiased description of what the house passed.

“The proposed $5.4 billion budget includes widespread cuts for state government agencies made necessary by the declines in state revenue in recent years and the absence of federal stimulus funds that have been used to help offset shortfalls. Evidence of economic recovery can be found in the availability this year of $350 million above the level of last year’s general fund appropriations.

A $101.4 million increase in Education Finance Act items allows for the base student cost to be increased to an estimated $1,788, which amounts to an additional $171 for each pupil. $25 million is included for the virtual and brick and mortar charter schools of the South Carolina Public Charter School District. Funds are provided to the state’s special schools to allow them to operate near full capacity.

The state’s institutions of higher education receive cuts ranging from 5 to 8 percent, with budget reductions distributed to universities and colleges using a formula that takes into account the percentage of state general funds comprising an institution’s budget and favors institutions with successful graduation rates and higher in-state enrollment. Several appropriations are made from the Capital Reserve Fund to allow higher education institutions to undertake deferred maintenance projects. The state’s scholarship programs are fully funded.

The Department of Health and Human Services receives an additional $435 million mostly to offset the agency’s $350 million deficit. The proposed budget eliminates the proviso that has prohibited alterations in the rates paid to doctors and other service providers in the state’s Medicaid Program. The proposed budget authorizes the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services to reduce provider rates as a cost-saving measure. The budget also allows access to $157.3 million in Medicaid Reserve Fund revenue collected from the fifty-cent cigarette surcharge for maintenance of effort in the Medicaid Program. Residual funds from the cigarette surcharge are to remain in the Medicaid Reserve Fund and may be used by the DHHS director to ensure access to care.

The budget incorporates numerous government restructuring initiatives. The Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services is merged with the Department of Corrections. The Arts Commission and the State Museum are transferred into the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. The Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services is transferred to the Department of Mental Health. The Division of Aeronautics is moved to the Department of Transportation. The Procurement Review Panel is transferred to the Administrative Law Court. The duties, functions, and responsibilities of the Education Oversight Committee are devolved upon the Department of Education and the committee’s funding is redistributed to fund other needs such as teacher salaries and supplies.

The new position of Governor’s Inspector General is required to make quarterly reports to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee on investigations of state government fraud, waste, and abuse. After June 30, 2012, the position of Inspector General must be fully self-sufficient from savings identified in the cabinet agencies under review.

The Judicial System is spared funding reductions and receives $5 million in capital reserve funds for statewide implementation of its electronic court filing initiative.

The Department of Corrections is fully funded according to the agency’s budget request with recurring general funds.

The Department of Disabilities and Special Needs receives an additional $35 million in recurring general fund appropriations to maintain agency operations. The Department of Social Services is fully funded according to its budget request.

Existing benefits are maintained under the state employee health insurance plan and the additional cost for maintaining the program is divided equally between state employees and their state agency employers.

The state’s reserve funds and rainy day accounts are fully replenished.

The budget includes a 10 percent reduction in state aid to local governments.

Budget cuts are directed to state agencies and institutions to eliminate taxpayer funded lobbying. Lobbyist registration fees are increased from one hundred to two hundred dollars with half of the increase remitted to the general fund and the other half retained for use by the State Ethics Commission.

All general funds are eliminated for South Carolina Educational Television, but SCETV is allowed to retain revenue derived from the use of its broadcast towers, signal spectrum, and contracts for other facilities and services in order to fund its operations.

The budget includes an additional $10 million in capital reserve funds for the Deal Closing Fund that the Department of Commerce uses to recruit new business to South Carolina.

$13 million in capital reserve funds is included for new job training at the state’s technical colleges.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism receives $5.4 million in capital reserve funds for marketing destination specific tourism.

The Forestry Commission is shielded from general fund reductions and receives $3 million in capital reserve funds to replace equipment used for such activities as firefighting.”

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COMMUNITY
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If you have an opinion on the current situation with Amazon and the pending jobs they are bringing to the state, please let me know. This is a complex issue that I am currently debating very heavily. Opinions I’ve heard already from constituents vary from: “jobs, jobs, jobs…do what has to be done…if we said we’d do it; do it” to “government shouldn’t pick winners/losers…not fair to others”. What’s your take or advice?

KEVEN COHEN’S 12TH ANNUAL RADIOTHON FOR LEUKEMIA: kicks off Thursday, April 7th on board The Spirit of Lake Murray! If you have never been on this cruise and/or would like to help a great cause, please contact me quickly. I’ll be on board with several friends and neighbors as we kick-off the start to Keven’s goal of raising $150,000 this year!

GREATER CHAPIN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: The Chamber’s Spring Business Expo will be held Tuesday, April 12th at the Rusty Anchor from 5:30 to 8pm.

GREATER IRMO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: The Chamber’s Annual Golf Tournament is Thursday, April 28th at Rawl’s Creek. Shotgun starts at 8am and 1:30 pm. For more info, visit the website.

BALLENTINE-DUTCH FORK CIVIC ASSOCIATION: General Membership meeting is Monday, April 6th starting at 6:30pm at Ballentine Park.

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OUR SCHOOLS
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MEET MARCUS NELLEMS: BUTLER basketball alum; District Five teacher!

BALLENTINE SCHOLARSHIPS: High school seniors living in House District 71 still have time to apply for one of the 2011 Ballentine Scholarships. Please visit your high school guidance counselor or contact me through the site. Deadline for applications is April 15th. Three $1,000 scholarships are available for USC, Clemson, Winthrop/Columbia College. Two $500 scholarships available for Midlands Tech.

DR. HEFNER SIGNS 4 YEAR CONTRACT: At the March 28, 2011 meeting, the Lexington-Richland Five Board of Trustees voted unanimously to offer Dr. Stephen Hefner a four-year superintendent’s contract. Hefner will be paid an annual salary of $186,000. School Board Chair Robert Gantt said, “Dr. Hefner’s long-term record of distinguished service in a neighboring district, combined with the opportunity the Board has had to observe his performance in District Five, have brought us to the conclusion that District Five is very fortunate to have the opportunity to name as District Superintendent someone we have worked with for a number of months and whose record of accomplishments are so well known. As a result of this good fortune, District Five can avoid the considerable expense, disruption, and uncertainty of a Superintendent search process. Hefner has served as interim superintendent since January 2011. He joined Lexington-Richland Five after having served as superintendent of Richland School District Two for 16 years.

IRMO HIGH SCHOOL HONORS: Irmo’s Boys Soccer is in the news a lot recently. Once for recently being rated the #1 team in the country (ESPN) and also for their soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach, Phil Savitz. Coach Savitz will be elected to the SC
Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in their 19th group of inductees this summer. The school’s Air Force ROTC captured “best in the state” for the 3rd time in 4 years. Congratulations to this fine group led by Colonel Jay Seward.

DISTRICT FIVE RECEIVES TWO EXCELLENT RATINGS: Lexington-Richland Five is one of only five districts in the state to receive two Excellent ratings on Report Cards issued from the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE). Each of the state’s 85 school districts are given an Absolute and a Growth rating. Absolute ratings are based on student test scores and can be Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average or At Risk. Growth ratings compare student test scores from one year to the next. Lexington-Richland Five also had the third highest growth rating in South Carolina. In addition, although 59 percent of school districts in the state saw a decrease in graduation rates, Lexington-Richland Five’s rate increased from 84.8 to 86.9.

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THANK YOU
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Thanks again for the privilege you give me to represent the Irmo/Chapin/Ballentine/Dutch Fork community! If you have events or people you’d like me to share with our community right here through Nathan’s News, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help!

I’m always eager to spend time with you at your Homeowners Association Meetings, Churches, and other civic events in the community! Let me know dates and times and I’ll work to be there!

Nathan Ballentine
www.nathansnews.com
House of Representatives, District 71
Richland-Lexington Counties
320B Blatt Building
Columbia, SC