Arguably the most important bill the House debates each year is the Appropriations Bill – the legislation that spends your hard-earned tax dollars.
This week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the first version of the 2012-2013 budget. The highlight of the budget is an increase of the “base student cost” to $2,012 in 2012, sending more money down to our state’s classrooms – an increase designated to give teachers their first pay raise in four years.
As our economy steadily improves we were committed to passing a budget that met a few critical tests:
- One: live within our means;
- Two, making reserves a priority;
- Three, funding core missions of State government;
- Four, investing in programs that have proven successful in helping put people back to work, and
- Five, improving our State’s infrastructure.
We achieved all of these while staying within the spending cap passed by the House last year.
Education is a priority for the House. Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said in a statement this week that we funded the base student cost at $2,012 because it was a bold commitment with our limited resources. We wanted to highlight that education is important.
We are still below the base student cost required by state law, but we are moving the state in the right direction and mandating this increase goes to rewarding the crown jewels of our schools – our teachers and support staff.
The budget sets aside $180 million to dredge the Port of Charleston – one of our state’s largest economic engines. That amount is the state’s portion of the project once it is approved. We believe the money we set aside for the port is a commitment to the Federal Government that we are serious about this expansion. The House Republicans hope this commitment will speed the process of deepening the port.
The House also included funding 50 new state law enforcement officers and expanded healthcare coverage to underprivileged children. It also increases the size of the state’s reserve funds faster than the constitutional mandate voters approved in 2010.
This spending plan falls well below the spending cap approved by the House last year. The House is committed to passing legislation that restrains the growth of government to levels that are sustainable. While the newest version of the bill is not yet law, the House Ways and Means Committee has made it a priority to live within the parameters set by that legislation.
One other major item in the House this week was the Senate’s approval of the Department of Administration legislation that the House sent to the Senate last year. As I write this, most members of the House have not had a chance to review the 99-page amendment the Senate included, but the House does have some concerns about initial Senate plans to eliminate the Budget and Control Board (good) while replacing it with EIGHT new agencies (bad). But I will reserve judgment on the legislation until I have had time to review the final version of the bill.