Caucus Report – The Budget

The end is finally in sight for the seemingly endless 2011 legislative session. The House was back in session for two days this week as we put our final touches on the state budget and also finalized the House and Senate redistricting.

This was an extraordinarily successful session for conservatives, as I have written about before. We completed a solid agenda of 20 pieces of conservative legislative reforms – from lawsuit abuse reform to Voter ID.

But the most important thing legislators do each year is write the state budget. Deciding how we spend, or return, your hard-earned tax dollars is a serious task that the House Republicans take very seriously. No budget is ever perfect, but we strive to ensure we prioritize spending and fund core government functions like highways, education, and public safety.

As the budget debate matures each year, third-party groups spend much time and energy attacking the budget by pulling out small programs or non-spending items as an indictment on the entire $6 billion state General Fund budget. I’ll say it again: No budget is perfect. But taking small items out of context and not looking at the whole is not fair and in no way “proves” a budget is not fiscally responsible.

We will debate Governor Haley’s budget vetoes next week. I want to share some information that came to the House this week.

First, data released recently by the conservative Tax Foundation showed South Carolina’s per capita tax burden is $1,577 (based on data from the Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau). That ranks us dead last – No. 50 – among U.S. States. This is a ranking where being last is a strong badge of honor. It also vindicates the 15 years of budgets written by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. We are keeping your tax burden low and letting you keep more of your money.

It is your money – not the government’s. The House Republican Caucus repeats this mantra every year as we start the budget process.

Second, the state’s Bureau of Economic Advisors published a document that since voters gave control of the state House to the Republican Party, the House has given more than $20 Billion back to taxpayers in tax credits and refunds. This includes everything from the 2006 property tax relief to the elimination of the marriage penalty and the grocery tax.

This year, those tax exemptions and eliminations means a family of four is paying $2,000 less in state taxes. That’s an anti-tax record I am proud of.

For more information on these rankings, or to see the data for yourself, go to the House Republican Caucus website: http://www.schousegop.com.

Third, this year’s budget also permanently eliminated nearly 4,700 state government positions that were vacant or had not been filled within the 12 months. Since voters gave the House Republicans control of the state House in 1994, the GOP has slashed the size of government by nearly 22 percent – as measured by the number of state employees. That’s a smaller government.

Finally, the total budget approved Wednesday totals $21.9 billion. Of that total, only the $6 billion General Fund is directed by the General Assembly. Of the rest, approximately $8 billion is Federal money flowing straight to Medicaid, schools, and local governments. Another $8 billion is “other money” – primarily money parents pay in college tuition directly to universities and gasoline tax money that is sent directly to the Department of Transportation for road maintenance and construction.

That’s the anatomy of conservative budget. And that’s why the House Republicans are proud of our record.

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