Ballentine-Nathan

Nathan Ballentine

An initial budget, education improvements & fighting the opioid epidemic

The South Carolina House of Representatives had a busy week producing an initial state budget, moving again on education improvements, and initiating a push to fight the opioid epidemic.

For months, the House Ways and Means Committee has been gathering operating budget requests from state agencies to produce a final budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Each year, House budget writers focus on funding the core functions of government and eliminating waste and duplication. Proposing and passing a balanced budget is one the most important things we do annually; these are your tax dollars and Representative Huggins and I take this role very seriously as two of only 25 members that serve on the Ways and Means committee.

This year’s budget specifically addresses the needs of poor rural school districts in 39 counties which have struggled in the past as a result of declining revenue streams among many other challenges. It is incumbent upon our state to provide each child the same opportunities in education regardless of their geographic location; the South Carolina Supreme Court said as much in their 2014 ruling which is the impetus for the actions we are taking today. In this initial funding proposal, $100 million has been dedicated toward repairing, maintaining, and in some cases upgrading the environments in which our students learn. I’ll have more information on the state budget in the coming weeks. The floor debate on the budget begins the week of March 13.

The House also gave key support to another important education-related matter – a bill removing the State Superintendent of Education from the list of partisan elected constitutional officers, instead making it a cabinet agency under direct supervision of the governor. The measure passed by more than 2/3 and upon third reading will be sent to the Senate for consideration. Before this constitutional change can happen, it will be need to be put on a ballot referendum. This means that the voters will get to decide to support or oppose this reform.

Finally, legislation was introduced this week by several House members aimed at addressing the prescription opioid epidemic in our state. A leader on this front has been my deskmate, Representative Huggins. For years, he has led the conversations and filed legislation to help remedy an epidemic around our state. You may have even seen national news reports dedicated to raising awareness of the growing problem. South Carolina is not immune. In 2013, the Inspector General released a report detailing problematic trends in our state related to drug overdoses. In 2014, a task force was assembled to develop a multi-pronged approach aimed at curbing the current crisis while also focusing on future preventative measures. Like many problems, this epidemic will not be fixed through legislation alone, but the task force did make several legislative recommendations. These steps are only the beginning and I will provide updates as progress is made.

By the time you read this, the House will have voted on the Roads Bill. I hope you have been keeping Representative Huggins and I informed of your choice on that bill. It is my belief that we will pass legislation again that will head to the Senate in hopes of ultimate approval by Governor McMaster.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 734-2969 or via email at [email protected] As always, please read my updates at www.nathansnews.com and share your advice and opinions anytime.