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Lawmakers to begin new session with familiar topics and less money

Published: Jan. 10, 2017 at 12:08 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Inside the State House lawmakers will be getting back to business this week.

The General Assembly will have less time to act since they agreed to a shorter session. Instead of wrapping up in June like previous years, they are scheduled to be out of the capital city on May 11th.

On Tuesday, the 2017 session will get underway with some familiar issues but with less money to address them compared to last year.

Once again, lawmakers will return to Columbia to take another stab at a solution for bad roads. Last year's decision to send $4 billion in funding to road repairs over 10 years is still considered to be far short of the $1.5 billion the Department of Transportation believes is needed on an annual basis.

Also, there will be more talk about raising the state's gas tax for the first time in three decades.

"This discussion over the last few years has been very frustrating to people," Senator Shane Massey said. "I think outside the State House, and in many cases inside the State House, it appears as if very little progress has been made. I actually think that inside the State House, though, there's been a considerable amount of progress because I think the points of disagreement have been severely narrowed."

The General Assembly also has to tackle an employee pension debt described as potentially catastrophic and now estimated to be at least $20 billion.

"The one enticement, incentive, or whatever, the one carrot that we have been able to hold out to employees is well, you'll have a retirement when you retire. And so I don't want us to do anything that is going to jeopardize that retirement," Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter explained.

State employees will have to pay more into that system. However, the effort to reduce the debt, other pressing needs like hurricane damage repairs, and a budget surplus less than half of last year's could mean little left for state worker pay raises.

Lawmakers will also try again to find a way to fund schools in poor districts as mandated by the state Supreme Court.

"We all want the same thing. There is not a soul, not one person in the House or Senate who does not want a world class education available to every student in South Carolina. We all absolutely want that goal, to seek that goal," Senator Greg Hembree said.

With Governor Nikki Haley being expected to be confirmed as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster will take over and perhaps bring a different perspective on issues including taxes.

There is also the question of how McMaster's current office will be filled and how that may affect members of the Senate.

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