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Panel Strips Economic Development from Firefighting Bill

Many state agencies and entities such as public-private partnerships work relentlessly to increase their economic development funding, and it’s not every day South Carolina legislators reject their appeals.

That’s true regardless of whether economic development is part of the organizations’ core missions.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the House passing a bill Friday that would steer additional dollars to the S.C. Forestry Commission: Lawmakers did turn aside a petition for more economic development money.

Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, introduced the bill, H. 4082, in April 2011.

As first written, the bill would have directed 7 percent of the revenue from state taxes on insurance premiums to the Forestry Commission for firefighting and “forestry industry economic enhancement.”

After Vick submitted the bill it picked up a pinecone pile of Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, but subsequently languished in the House Ways and Means Committee for a year.

Then last month, the Ways and Means Committee took up the bill, amended it and sent it to the full House, which gave it final approval and sent it to the Senate on Friday.

The amendment to the bill lowered the amount of insurance premium tax collections to be allocated to the Forestry Commission from 7 percent to 2.25 percent. And it eliminated the language allowing the agency to use part of the money for economic development.

Instead, the commission would have to use all of its supplemental funding under the bill for the agency’s essential function of fighting wildfires.

Forestry Commission director Gene Kodama says firefighting is a labor- and capital-intensive undertaking, and the agency’s funding for it fell sharply during the recession.

The bill would help the commission cover the costs, such as new bulldozers and other equipment, he says.

The Ways and Means panel also added a five-year limit on the extra cash for the agency, from next fiscal year through fiscal 2017.

Kodama says he is OK with economic development being dropped from the bill. “We’ll ask for that in our regular budget and get it another way,” he says.

On Monday, the Senate referred the bill to its Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.

Economic Development General Assembly Legislation State Agencies

Gene Kodama Rep. Ted Vick S.C. Forestry Commission