The campaigns, elections and divisiveness that marked 2012 are behind us and state legislators begin a new year in Columbia to face their toughest task: crafting a unifying vision to move South Carolina forward.

South Carolina Senate Democrats have elected me to be the leader of a caucus that truly represents South Carolina’s diverse landscape. We seek to work collaboratively to create opportunities for better tomorrows for our residents and enhance the quality of life in all regions of our great state.

Senate Democrats know the way forward is by advancing an agenda that works for all South Carolinians.

Our ability to transform South Carolina’s economy – to spur growth and create high-wage jobs – hinges on our investment in our state’s infrastructure, the health of our residents and public education. And, part of our tasks as legislators is to ensure our investments – our decisions – make the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars so our state delivers programs and services in a cost-effective manner. As Senate Democrats, that’s our commitment to the residents of South Carolina.

These are our priorities as we seek support for an agenda to put South Carolina first.

• South Carolina has not enacted a bond bill for capital projects in more than a decade. Now, is an ideal time to pass a bond bill to make the major investment to meet current and long-term infrastructure needs.

Right now, our state’s roads and bridges are crumbling. We have neglected much needed maintenance and modernization. But, our infrastructure needs go beyond roads and bridges. For instance, we need water and sewer services in rural areas. As we progress in the 21st Century, we must plan for the technology infrastructure needed to attract industry and bring high-paying jobs. In addition, we must work with industry to identify alternative methods to transport goods across the state.

• Our state’s economy is improving, but not as fast as our national economy. Our state must continue to recruit large employers, but we must have an equal focus on small businesses. The state’s Department of Commerce needs a small business division charged with recruiting and supporting small businesses, which create the majority of the jobs in South Carolina. Often, it’s small businesses that are on the cutting edge of technology and South Carolina needs to support these entrepreneurs.

• South Carolina needs to ensure access to medical care for its residents. It’s a way to invest in the well-being of our people and maintain a healthy and vibrant workforce. The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken: the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Washington politics should not be our politics. As legislators, we need to provide a better quality of life for our residents. By expanding our state’s Medicaid program to cover the poorest of the poor, we can do just that.

• Progress for South Carolina can only be built on the foundation of a high-quality public education system that provides our employers a highly skilled workforce and our children hope for a better life. We need to support our teachers and bring their salaries in line with their colleagues in neighboring states. We need a more equitable public school funding system so that a child’s ZIP code does not determine the quality of education he or she receives. And, the earlier we reach these young minds the better. We need to join our neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia and enact full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten in South Carolina.

All these things are possible this year. We stand ready to work with Senate and House Republicans as well as the governor to make real and lasting progress for our state. Our agenda is not a partisan agenda; it’s a South Carolina agenda.

Sen. Nikki Setzler represents District 26 in the S.C. Senate. He is the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.