By Stan Welch
State Senator Kevin Bryant has been holding a series of “Fire House Chat” meetings to get input and response from his constituents. One thing he has learned is that holding such meetings just a few days before Christmas may not be the way to go.
Forty five minutes into his Tuesday evening meeting (Dec. 16) at the Powdersville Fire Department, a dozen adults and three minors had gathered; a fact that Bryant ruefully acknowledged, saying that next year a different schedule might be more useful. Still, he carried on with his presentation about the coming legislative session, and answered questions from the audience.
Bryant, who co-chairs the House finance committee, is known for his conservative fiscal views, which were on full display at the meeting. He used a graphics presentation to show that a trillion dollars, in bundles of hundred dollar bills would stand taller than the Empire State building.
He also discussed the performance of the Retirement System Investment Commission, which oversees the investments made in order to continue funding the benefits provided to retired state employees. He pointed out that, according to state actuaries, those investments need to generate an annual return of seven and a half per cent in order to meet the required revenues.
He stated that he has introduced a bill to amend the state Constitution in such a way as to allow the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) program to invest more aggressively in order to sustain those necessary levels of return.
He also had high praise for the turnaround in the last couple of years at the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW), which has reduced fraudulent claims by more than seventy five million dollars. “This is something that we are doing right in South Carolina, but it gets little attention in the media,” said Bryant.
He went on to say, however, that despite the state’s efforts to get people jobs instead of just giving them a check, “We continue to subsidize laziness. There are still too many people who ‘game’ the system. I have no sympathy for them. We need to maintain our goals to put every person in the state to work. A job for everyone who wants one and who can work.”
He also talked about the issue of roads and bridges, and how to fund them. Contrary to many other legislators, Bryant feels that the state has plenty of money on hand for those matters, but simply allocates the funds improperly.” We hear all this talk about making the roads a priority, but if they really were a priority, they would be in good shape already.”
“Last year, the state’s capital reserve fund was $128 million, and not a penny went to roads or bridges. Where is all this money going? I think making the SCDOT a cabinet level office is a good idea. Hopefully it will result in greater accountability.”
He bemoaned the $20 million spent on Anderson’s East West Parkway, saying, “It’s more fun to have a ribbon cutting than to fix potholes, I guess. It’s basically just a barrier they established to make it as easy as possible for the city to grab as many homes as they can to add to their tax base.”
He repeated his vow that he would not support an increase in the state’s gasoline taxes.
He expressed his surprise that Anderson County voters approved a one cent sales tax increase, a tax he claimed will cost the taxpayers over $300 million dollars over the next fifteen years. “Let’s just go to two cents, and eliminate the property tax,” he suggested.
He also recommends phasing out the state income tax, claiming that states without it have stronger economies.
The focus shifted to other matters of government. “South Carolina defines marriage as one man, one woman. But if the courts are going to make up their own rules, we should just quit defining marriage at all.”
He also talked about legislation that has been introduced to give the castle doctrine a more primary status in state law than it currently has. The doctrine, which essentially gives the right to stand one’s ground, currently has to be established and determined. In the meantime, the citizen involved can face charges. The new legislation would defer charges until a decision on the efficacy of the castle doctrine is reviewed.
Senator Bryant also discussed a request for legislation he received from District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, seeking to restore the principle that gave the county direct supervisory status over the independent auditor and the county attorney.
Wilson argues that under former administrator Joey Preston, the auditor was removed from the Council’s purview and taken under the administrator’s wing. So was the county attorney, according to Wilson, whose arguments are pretty well buttressed by the county’s history.
But Bryant said that to achieve what Wilson hopes to, the Home Rule Act would probably have to be amended. “It faces an uphill battle,” he said.