The House convened for the final times this summer over the past few weeks, first to review and vote on a conference report from the joint Senate-House Budget Conference Committee, which met to iron out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the state budget, and then to vote on Governor McMaster’s vetoes.

With all the hard work of staff, members of the committee, my colleagues, and with the leadership of the Speaker, we were able to pass the most conservative budget in South Carolina history. This budget funds only the essential functions of the state while protecting taxpayers and preparing for weather or health-related disasters.

Some of this year’s highlights include: $50 million in a Preparedness Relief Fund in the case of a natural disaster; investment in rebuilding tourism to recover the pandemic’s hardest-hit industry; $650 million to local governments to allow them to cut taxes on residents; 75% expansion of the state’s 4K program and $1,000 raise for every teacher (in addition to a STEP increase), bringing teacher pay in our state above the Southeast average; $36 million for the growth of the charter school system; a full-time nurse and school resource officer in every school; 2.5% pay raise for state employees; STEP pay raise for law enforcement officers and PTSD treatment for law enforcement and firefighters; $8.3 million to pay down state debt; and $200 million for the S.C. Port to avoid high-interest debt. 

Additionally, conservative budgeting and years of responsible planning allowed for more than $643 million in reserves. While the Governor vetoed a number of earmarked appropriations, totaling $152.5 million dollars, not on the merits of the individual projects but because projects (including funding for the Jasper Port, Beaufort Jasper Comp Health and Port Royal Shrimp Dock Repairs) were bundled, he also applauded the General Assembly for passing “the most transparent and accountable budget in modern times.”

(You can see the full budget at scstatehouse.gov/committeeinfo/housewaysandmeans.php.)

In addition to finishing the work on the budget this week, my Legislative Oversight Committee held a public hearing to review the State Election Commission’s process for maintaining the accuracy of voter rolls with regards to qualified electors, including but not limited to, removing deceased people from the state’s active voter registration list. Special thanks to Laurie Zapp and Xiodian Lee, both from Beaufort County, for their extensive research and testimony before the committee.

In this politically charged environment, it is easy to get caught up in partisan politics whenever the topic of voter rolls comes up. Our meeting was not without passion from various sides, but fortunately we are were able to agree that insuring the integrity and accuracy of our voter rolls is tantamount to free and fair elections where every legal vote counts. 

The committee’s review and testimony offered afforded a better understanding of the process and resulted in identification of ways to help close some of the gaps and find solutions to get better access to more death records, specifically involving state residents dying across state lines.

While the Oversight Committee, which I chair, meets year-round, typically the House would not reconvene until January; however this year, we will return in September to begin work on reapportionment and redistricting. 

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov