There's still time for changes in this year's Legislature

During the 2008 elections, “change” and “reform” were two of the most used words by those running for political office. Despite the rhetoric of the 2008 campaigns, the chance for meaningful change and reform in 2009 is slipping away in the South Carolina General Assembly as the end of the legislative session is fast approaching this month. Nevertheless, there is still time for the Legislature to make substantial strides toward improving our state government and the quality of life for all of us in South Carolina. Some areas of change that I have been working on this session with other members are as follows:

First, we need a cap on spending growth and a larger rainy day fund. If the recent budget shortfall tells us anything other than that we need meaningful tax reform (where we are headed with the passage last week of the TRAC Commission bill), we should have learned that we need to cap future spending growth in the general fund and we need a larger amount of reserves for the rainy day. Bills making these happen can still pass this session.

Second, we need to move further along with restructuring our state government. Bills establishing a Department of Administration; decreasing the number of popularly elected constitutional officers; and reorganizing the Employment Security Commission into a Department of Workforce face obstacles in both houses but they can still pass this session. In doing so, we will take small steps toward making more areas of state government more effective and accountable.

Third, we can address our state’s high school drop-out rate and the duplication of limited resources for education through the passage of two bills. One is a bill to require all students under the age of 18 either to have graduated or to be enrolled in school in good standing in order to have the privilege of possessing a driver’s license. Dropping out of school early without a hardship would mean giving up the privilege of driving. The second is a bill to consolidate school districts where we have some counties with one school district like Aiken and Greenville and some small counties like Barnwell with three and some large counties like Spartanburg with as many as seven. Setting a minimum student population threshold for school district existence and decreasing the number of school districts statewide will eliminate administrative overhead and better use resources for the classroom.

Fourth, we can pass legislation to make a permanent dedicated funding source for our road and bridge infrastructure needs. The South Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for three times more roads than any other state in the nation. Yet, we have no recurring means of funding improvements for our roads and bridges. It is time for that to change. A bill can still pass this year for the maintenance and improvement of our state’s roads and bridges.

Fifth, we can address the rising cost of health care by passing the cigarette tax already approved this session by the House. In the House plan, most of the money will go to provide tax credits for small businesses to get more employees insured and premium assistance for low income families to purchase health insurance. The bill is now in the Senate.

Finally, we can improve both transparency and the public’s trust in government by making roll-call voting requirements permanent and by making it the law for state agencies to disclose their monthly expenditures online for the public’s view.

Join me in calling on our representatives, our senators, and our governor to make the above happen. By doing so, we can count 2009 as a year in which we made great strides toward improving our state government despite the budget challenges that we face.

Rep. Tom Young represents District 81 in the S.C. House. He can be reached at (803) 215-3631 or through his website at

Aiken Standard

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