On the eve of the start of South Carolina’s 2020 legislative session, Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, spoke Monday about the issues lawmakers would be facing in Columbia.

Making up his audience were members of the Rotary Club of Aiken and their guests, who gathered at Newberry Hall.

The major topics up for debate in the Statehouse this year, Young said, will be Santee Cooper, education, tax reform, pension reform and a state budget surplus.

A lot of the lawmakers’ time will be devoted to Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility that is about $8 billion in debt.

“The Santee Cooper issue is the one that quite literally may take up at least half of the session,” Young said. “The big issue is whether selling Santee Cooper is in the best interest of the ratepayers and the taxpayers in this state.

“Do we sell it? Do we retain it? Do we allow it to reform itself internally? Do we retain it and hire a third party to manage it and make it a better asset on the state’s books? Maybe five years from now we revisit selling it. These are all things we are having to look at.”

Young said that Santee Cooper has transmission lines in Aiken County and that Aiken Electric Cooperative members are indirect customers of Santee Cooper.

There is a state budget surplus of more than $1.8 billion, and there already have been discussions among legislators and others about how to use that money, according to Young.

“As you may or may not know, the General Assembly actually raised teacher pay across the board (in 2019),” Young said. “There was a $3,000 increase for salaries for starting teachers and there was a four percent pay increase for teachers across the board. Now the governor (Henry McMaster) and others have called for a further increase on top of that in 2020, and they want to use the budget surplus to do that. An additional $3,000 increase for all teachers across the state would cost $211 million and put South Carolina in the top 25 in the nation for teacher pay.”

McMaster also has proposed expanding state-funded, full-day 4K (pre-kindergarten) programs for children from poor families to every Palmetto State school district. And he “wants to use some of the budget surplus,” Young said.

For residents of Aiken County who live along the Savannah River, the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam issue is especially of concern.

Young said he and other members of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation are among state officials who want to “preserve the pool,” he continued, “and what that means is we want the level (of the water) to remain at or about 114.5 feet.”

Young also mentioned the Aiken County Legislative Delegation’s response to other local issues.

“We are constantly trying to work with the DOT (South Carolina Department of Transportation) and the county – and in some places, the respective city or town – on ways we can improve our roads,” he said. “Thank the Lord the Silver Bluff Road (Corridor Improvement) Project is done.

“Cyber investment in Aiken County, we are very involved in trying to help with that and getting some of that going in Aiken County compared to what they have in Georgia.”

 

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.