A Long Term Infrastructure Solution

Fixing our roads and bridges is one of my top priorities at the State House. In my countless discussions with constituents over the last couple years, the number one topic of conversation has been roads. So, let’s start by agreeing that something has to be done to fix our badly dilapidated roads and bridges.

The most sobering reality in our state today is that people are dying on our roadways and we can prevent much of it. Our state is once again on the wrong end of a national 50-state listing. We lead the nation in traffic fatalities, a sad fact attributed in part to the dilapidated state of our road systems. South Carolina has seen an increase in traffic fatalities of 27% in just the past 3 years alone.

The effort to develop a long-term sustainable solution to fix our dangerous infrastructure began 3 years ago in 2014. A bi-partisan committee developed a proposal utilizing the information provided from a DOT audit. The bill passed the House, but was ultimately blocked in the Senate.

After much input, a new infrastructure bill was put into motion this week that would take an incremental approach to an increased user fee. Motorists who drive on our roads would see a 2 cents per gallon increase each year over the next 5 years. It is important to note that 100% of the additional funding would go solely toward our vast infrastructure needs.  The last time South Carolina increased the per gallon user fee was in 1987 under the leadership of Governor Carroll Campbell. It remains one of the lowest in the country. Since the last increase the cost to pave roads has multiplied without a new source of funding.

The oldest taxpayer watchdog group in South Carolina, The South Carolina Taxpayers Association (SCTA), announced its support for the House measure. SCTA President Don Weaver said, “Well naturally, our membership doesn’t like any tax increase if that were perfect, but we also realize that the roads do need an increase in funding, and so unfortunately the gas tax really is the best way to get that.”

By utilizing a user fee increase (sustained long-term funding paid by anyone buying fuel to drive on SC roads), instead of General Fund money (one-time monies, most of which is collected only from SC citizens via sales or income tax), the new bill would shift the burden from being solely on the backs of SC taxpayers to anyone who uses our roadways – 1/3 of whom are out of state individuals. It’s called a “user fee,” not to try and hide the fact that it’s an increase of revenues, but to highlight the fact it’s a tax only paid by people who buy fuel to drive on our state’s roads.

Those who drive tens of thousands of miles on our roads will pay more because they use them more, and those who drive much less, would pay much less under this plan. The measure is an effort to create a fair user fee for motorists who cause wear and tear on our roads.

In a creative effort to even further shift the burden from SC citizens to out-of-state funding sources, the new legislation places a transfer fee on any out-of-state individuals seeking to register a vehicle for use on our roadways. The concept being, those who use our roads should pay to do so. Currently Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee all have similar measures.

This proposal comes after much study and input from the public. No votes have been cast yet and there will be many opportunities for discussion and debate. I’m asking for your input on the matter. Please feel free to tell me what you think by reaching out on social media, or contact me at derhamcole@schouse.gov or (803) 212-6790. I will also update you as additional details become available in the coming weeks.

As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the privilege to serve you in the State House.

Sincerely,

Rep. J. Derham Cole, Jr.

A Business Plan for 2017

Last week was the first week of the 2017 session for the General Assembly. We returned to Columbia with a long list of issues to tackle and a shorter period of time in which to accomplish the work of the people. A shorter legislative session means savings for taxpayers and forces more efficiency in government. I am thankful for the trust you have placed in me to represent your interests this year in Columbia.

House Republicans issued a Business Plan for 2017 focusing on broad job retention and growth concerns. Each item contained in our business plan directly affects an existing job or a future job. It’s a smaller agenda than we have had in previous years because these are all serious items that will need in-depth debate.

Since voters gave Republicans control of the House in 1994, the most significant legislative achievements originated in the Caucus Agenda items such as: workers’ compensation reform, property tax reform, illegal immigration reform, campaign finance reform, DOT reform, ethics reform and elimination of the Budget and Control Board, among many others.

We have a history of accomplishing our agenda effectively. We plan to do that again this year. This year’s agenda comes in the form of a business plan and includes:

  • Education Reform: Legislation is being written to address issues in our state’s education system that hampers children’s ability to receive the education they should receive. We will fix the law so every child in South Carolina receives a 21st Century education no matter the zip code in which he or she lives. By doing so, we ensure each child is prepared for life in the workforce.
  • Retirement Solvency: It’s no secret our state’s retirement system needs a major course correction, and quickly, as it must continue to meet the needs of our public employees and retirees. South Carolina’s greatest assets are the people who serve the public each and every day, from law enforcement to our teachers. We owe them an adequate retirement, and the promises made to public employees will be kept.
  • Fixing our Roads & Bridges: Last year the House was the only legislative body to pass a comprehensive DOT restructuring/sustainable funding bill. While the Senate came up a few votes shy of passing comprehensive legislation, we have heard the demands from constituents and will re-double our efforts this year to once again pass a meaningful DOT reform/funding bill to address our crumbling infrastructure.
  • Workforce Development: For a period of months, employers have been telling us there is a shortage of skilled workers to fill job openings. We will engage our k-12 education system to give parents the option for students to receive the specialized training necessary for a career in technology, manufacturing, or another field requiring analytical thinking skills.
  • Real Tax Reform: House Speaker Jay Lucas appointed a special committee tasked with updating our existing tax code. The committee is currently designing a proposal that will move us further from an income-based tax code while simultaneously moving toward a consumption-based tax code. The result is a flatter and fairer tax code for all taxpayers.

In the coming weeks, Caucus members will reach out to their constituents and to Republican activists statewide to prioritize the agenda.

As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia.  If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact me at derhamcole@schouse.gov or at (803) 212-6790.

Roads Bill Passage, Shorter Session, & Sine Die

Sine Die (Latin meaning “without a fixed day”) Adjournment fell on Thursday June 2, 2016 at 5:00pm and marked the end of this year’s general legislative session. For a bill to have become law this year, it would have needed to pass both legislative chambers by Sine Die.

The House and Senate will now work over the next week and a half in “Conference Committee” to reach final agreements on bills that passed both chambers but still need the differences between them consolidated into a final version that is acceptable to each body. At that point both chambers will come back to vote on the conference reports. The Governor will have 5 days to issue any vetoes and my colleagues will meet one last time to sustain or override her vetoes.  I will report further after we address the vetoes on June 15.

While my House colleagues and I passed many significant pieces of legislation this week, the most anticipated was a bill to begin funding the needed repairs to our dangerous roads and bridges.

On Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Jay Lucas took the floor to call out the Senate for their lack of action and the Governor for her lack of leadership.  On Tuesday evening the Senate passed a roads bill, and Wednesdayafternoon my House colleagues and I took swift action to give it final passage. After two years and hundreds of hours, the bill now goes to Governor Haley for her signature.

Three key components of Road Funding Bill:

  1. Significantly reformed the Department of Transportation. Before allocating any additional dollars to the broken agency, I joined my conservative colleagues in demanding these reforms.
  2. Allocates up to $4 billion in state dollars which must be used to repair our dangerous roadways, including 399 dilapidated bridges.
  3. Does not raise taxes.

This  year marks the last year that the South Carolina legislature will end in June. Beginning in 2017, the legislative session will be a month shorter than it has historically been ultimately saving the state $350,000 and forcing more efficiency in lawmaking. The measure was strongly approved by both chambers.  The House has passed numerous session-shortening bills over the years, but this is the first time the Senate has agreed.

After several sessions of trying, Rep. Eddie Tallon and I were finally able to get the approval of the General Assembly to close the loophole preventing moped riders from being charged with Driving Under the Influence and similar driving offenses.  The reform was included in a more comprehensive bill related to mopeds.

It is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly.  If you ever find yourself in need of assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me at derhamcole@schouse.gov.

Pass Ethics Reform

Last year, common sense ethics reform died in the State Senate. I fought in the State House to hold politicians mor accountable and make politics more transparent, but special interests got in the way of good reform.

We must end the practice of allowing legislators to investigate themselves for ethics violations and instead create an independent body that can hold politicians accountable without outside influence.

Sign the petition and demand ethics reform the State House.

Get out and Vote!

 

1. Voting absentee? Make sure to return your ballot to the local election office today! Click here.

2. Find your polling location and see a sample ballot: Click here.

3. How to vote: find what kind of ID you’ll need, where to vote, and all other information you need. Click here.

Precinct Location Address
Cannons Elementary Cannons Elementary School 1351 Old Converse Rd
Spartanburg SC 29307
Cherokee Sprgs Fire Sta Cherokee Springs Fire Station 201 Flatwood Dr
Chesnee SC 29323
Chesnee Senior Center Chesnee Senior Center 302 E Manning Street
Chesnee SC 29323
Converse Fire Station Converse Fire Station 107 Tram St
Converse SC 29329
Cowpens Fire Station Timken Community Center 180 Foster St
Cowpens SC 29330
Drayton Fire Station Drayton Fire Station 50 Carney St
Spartanburg SC 29307
Mayo Elementary Mayo Elementary School 1330 Springdale Dr
Mayo SC 29368
Pine Street Elementary St John’s Lutheran Church Parish Life Cn 415 S Pine St
Spartanburg SC 29302
Trinity Methodist Trinity Methodist Church 626 Norwood St
Sptbg SC 29302
Spartanburg High School Spartanburg High School 500 Dupre Dr
Sptbg SC 29307
Cornerstone Baptist Cornerstone Baptist Church 700 S Converse St
Sptbg SC 29306
Beaumont Methodist Beaumont Methodist Church 687 N Liberty St
Sptbg SC 29302
Whitlock Junior High Whitlock Junior High 364 Successful Way
Spartanburg SC SC 29303
Eastside Baptist Eastside Baptist Church 1850 Fernwood Glendale Rd
Spartanburg Sc SC 29307
Cudd Memorial Cudd Memorial Church 1301 Boiling Spgs Rd
Sptbg SC 29303
Carlisle Fosters Grove Carlisle Fosters Grove Elementary 625 Fosters Grove Rd
Chesnee SC SC 29323
Jesse Boyd Elementary Jesse Boyd Elementary Sch 1505 Fernwood Glendale Rd
Spartanburg SC SC 29307
Daniel Morgan Tech Center Daniel Morgan Technology Center 201 Zion Hill Rd
Spartanburg SC SC 29307
Chapman Elementary Chapman Elementary School 230 Bryant Rd
Spartanburg SC SC 29303
Mountain View Baptist Mountain View Baptist 5555 Parris Bridge Rd
Spartanburg SC SC 29316
Ben Avon Methodist Ben Avon Methodist Church 2362 Avondale Dr
Spartanburg SC SC 29302

 

South Carolina’s Redrawn State House and Congressional Maps Will Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that South Carolina’s redrawn state house and congressional maps will stand. Voters brought a lawsuit against state officials over the new district lines, but the Supreme Court upheld the lines as drawn during the last legislative session. Follow this link to read more about the Supreme Court’s decision: http://www.goupstate.com/article/20121001/WIRE/121009974.

Thankfully, this means there will be little confusion in the upcoming election. South Carolina residents may now register to vote online at https://info.scvotes.sc.gov/eng/ovr/start.aspx. Don’t forget to register by October 6 to be able to vote in the November 6 election!