By Barney Blakeney
South Carolina state legislators reportedly are sitting on a substantial budget surplus. Given the disparities that exist in the state’s Black communities, I asked some local legislators how that surplus might impact those disadvantaged communities. Here’s what they had to say.
Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown said the budgeting process is a complicated one that lumbers thorough subcommittees, full committees and eventually to the full bodies of both the House and Senate. Each comes up with their own version of spending. He said it likely will take another week before House members get a report from its Ways and Means Committee on how to spend the surplus money. At that point, the full House debate on how the money should be spent will begin. It could take another month before they reach any conclusion, he said. And then the House bill and Senate bills will be debated before they arrive at a joint bill.
As House members await recommendations from its ways and means committee, Brown said he is confident some money will be allocated to pay increases for teaches. Funding for rural road construction and maintenance, which will benefit Brown’s District 116, also will be allocated. And early child education also is a top priority, he said. But Brown noted that dispelling disparities that exist in Black communities will require more than additional funding. That will take policy, he said.
North Charleston Rep. David Mack concurred. While teacher pay increases and money that provide services to students will impact the Black community as much as any other initiative, funding also must be allocated to resources that catch children before they enter systems like the criminal justice system, Mack said. Funding for early childhood education programs can help do that, but bills that provide resources such as inclusionary housing which improve the quality of life for the state’s Black residents are the game changers, he said.
Those policies come through legislative action, Mack said. But the numbers are stacked against progressive legislators who must depend on the support of conservative legislators to pass that kind of legislation. Beyond the budget surplus, “We just don’t have the numbers to do the things we need to do,” Mack said.