This week state lawmakers offer help to the Charleston port while telling local governments to tighten their belts.
The House returned to work to a bevy of activity after a two week furlough. Legislators gave final approval to a bill that allows South Carolina harbor pilots to skirt a federal boating speed limit that’s designed to protect endangered right whales. the bill gives the harbor pilots the status of law enforcement which are exempt from the 11 mile per hour speed limit on boats longer than 65 feet.
Legislators says the rule puts the Charleston port at an economic disadvantage with other ports, where their shorter boats allow pilots to more quickly board and bring in ships. The Charleston port is unique because longer harbor boats are needed to go the approximate 15 miles into the open sea to meet incoming vessels. Federal officials say they know of no other state taking that approach.
For the immediate future, the House is scrambling to maintain its operations within budget. House Speaker Bobby Harrell told house members that operating at a deficit is not an option. Harrell says he will be running a tight ship in order to adjourn by late May. “My ideal is for us all to be through, gone, budget vetoes everything finished so we’re out of here by the 21st. My second favorite thing would be to take that third week of May off that I’m talking about as a furlough week and then only come back the last week to finish up and do the budget conference committee. The worst case scenario is we’re here until June the fourth and then three more days to deal with vetoes some time later in June.”
The Senate gave key approval to cut $50 million from state funding to local governments but not without contentious debate from Dorchester County Senator Randy Scott and Senate Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman of Florence. Scott proposed an amendment that would allow local governments the right to reduce their funding of state mandates by the percentage that their funding would be affected by the $50 million cut. Leatherman opposed the amendment which led to a heated exchange.
Leatherman: “Senator, I submit to you we sent more money back to local governments than was ever needed for state mandates. senator, I wonder what they did with that money. They made the decision didn’t they?”
Scott: “Well senator there were cost increases, rent increases.”
Leatherman: “Did they not make that decision? You think the cost increases have doubled in the past 6 to 8 years?”
Scott: “What do you mean they made the decision? They were mandated to fund this and fund that.”
In the end Leatherman’s argument won. The amendment was narrowly defeated by a 22-20 vote.