For the past few weeks, my colleagues and I have dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy advancing our Republican Caucus Agenda for 2022.
We passed the ARPA Funds Appropriations Bill, which outlines how we will spend the several billion federal dollars being sent to the Palmetto State to give us a much-needed infrastructure facelift. This includes $450 million to SCDOT, which will use the funds to improve roads, interstates, highways, and bridges, including building I-73 and widening of I-95 and I-26. The bill also gives $800 million to the Rural Infrastructure Authority to update our water and sewer systems; $400 million towards expanding broadband to rural areas of the state; and $100 million to the Office of Resilience to combat storm damage and flooding.
We also unanimously vote to pass H3346 to increase our state’s reserve funds, often referred to as “rainy day funds.” Currently, our general reserve fund equals 5% of the total general fund revenue (revenues from taxes, fees, interest earnings, etc.). The increase will slowly raise the percentage by 0.5% until our fund is 7%, and increases our Capital Reserve Fund from 2% to 3% upon ratification of an amendment to our Constitution.
I was proud to support this legislation, as being economically cautious is fundamental to ensuring our economy is prepared for financial adversity or economic uncertainty in the future. This type of conservative budgeting in the past has brought us a historic amount of surplus funds.
Rather than spend this money, I joined other House Republicans in successfully pushing for returning $1 billion to taxpayers. Our state already enjoys lower effective tax rates than neighboring states; now we have a plan to make them even lower.
The foundation of the House plan is a new, simplified two-rate income tax system. Currently our system includes six different convoluted and confusing tax brackets. Our plan collapses those brackets into two rates: one at 3% and one at 6.5% after one year, gradually reducing the maximum rate to 6% over five years, so long as conservative planning and budgeting persists.
The average effective rate for taxpayers will decrease from 3.1% to 2.5%. On average, this is a savings of $414, or 20.6% for South Carolina families. The plan prioritizes cutting taxes for working, middle-class families in our state.
South Carolinians earning less than $25,000 will see a 25% tax decrease upon full implementation. The plan also eliminates income taxes on military retirement for our 58,000-plus veterans, allowing us to say “thank you” and making it easier from them to say “yes” to South Carolina.
We closed out February and began March passing legislation that creates uniformity and consistency in the way elections are run in this state and ensures every legal vote is counted, making it easier to vote but harder to cheat.
The House unanimously passed H4919, providing for in-person early voting for two weeks prior to elections while modifying absentee voting to prevent impropriety, reduce ballot harvesting, eliminate fusion voting, clean up our voter rolls, require new security protocols for electronic poll books, prohibit – at all times during voting in a current election– internet or external network connections, require sole source ballot cards/paper with authentication features, adding a public voter fraud hotline and requiring regular post-election audits.
Finally, we recently entered one of the busiest weeks of the year: budget week. The budget was to be on the House Floor for debate the week of March 14 and will include new significant well-deserved pay raises for a number of core workforce groups throughout South Carolina including our teachers, law enforcement officers and state employees.
In closing, I was humbled and honored by the recent notification that the Conservation Voters of South Carolina organization has “enthusiastically endorsed my re-election to the House as an early, prefiling endorsement,” recognizing my service as a “consistent voice for protecting, the air, land, and water of South Carolina.”
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov