West of the Ashley, S.C. House District 119 used to be the home of controversial conservative John Graham Altman and his big mouth. In 2006, Altman retired and Democrat Leon Stavrinakis took a more bipartisan approach to Columbia. Re-election was easy two years ago, but the anti-incumbent sentiment in a more conservative district is going to make 119 another nail-biter, with Stavrinakis again pressing his independent record while his opponent, Republican Lee Edwards, focuses on accounting for every dollar in Columbia.
PUBLIC SERVICE: Edwards served for four years on the St. Andrew's Public Service District, which oversees things like fire protection for unincorporated West Ashley. Edwards was head of the Budget Committee and, during that time, he says the PSD cut taxes by 27 percent while improving services. He says it was a good entrance into elected office. "I pride myself on doing my homework, working with others, and being dogged for the answers."
STATE AGENCIES: With a slew of state agencies, Edwards says he'll look for ways to consolidate services, like combining the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. He also wants a detailed audit of each agency to seek out wasteful spending. "We don't know where all the money is going, but we hear talk about firing and laying off teachers and staff," he says. An annual audit of each agency would pay for itself by ferreting out inefficiencies and wasteful spending, he says, pointing to the recent reorganization of the Department of Employment and Workforce. "It won't be cheap, but it will pay for itself," he says.
AUDITS, LOTS OF THEM: For Edwards, audits will not only reveal agency waste, but also begin the process of college and K-12 education reforms. With another cash-strapped year expected in 2011, Edwards says he'd hold the line on funding and make sure each dollar is spent wisely. Particularly in education, he hopes that cuts hit the right spot — targeting top-heavy administrations instead of the classroom.
JOBS: In a critique of government spending, Edwards says he wants a leaner state budget that puts more money in taxpayer wallets. "The creation of new jobs by the private sector, and in particular by small businesses, will pull us out of these hard times," he says.
ABOUT THAT OTHER GUY: Edwards' criticism of Stavrinakis focuses on the legislator's decision to abstain from certain parts of the state budget. "It's taking part-time to the extreme," he says. A Charleston lawyer, Stavrinakis says he makes each decision based on recommendations by the legislature's ethics guidelines and he'd rather be cautious than reckless.
For more info on Edwards, visit voteleeedwards.com.
BUDGET REFORM: Stavrinakis says he has fought for budget reform for years, with a focus on prioritizing state spending and forcing state agencies to justify not just new programs, but existing costs. "All we do is build next year's budget on last year's flawed budget," he says. "We've cut out a lot of waste in the last few years — but not by choice. When the money comes back, if we don't change the way we do business, it's going to go back to wasteful spending.
SMALL BUSINESS: Stavrinakis notes there are only so many Boeings out there. "Your focus needs to be on small business every day," he says. Stavrinakis has been critical of economic development efforts that focus on corporate tax breaks which overlook small businesses that don't fit that mold. He's also supported a law allowing several small businesses to pool their employees for better insurance rates, as well as support for workers' compensation and tort reforms. "Those are the kinds of expenses that can drive them out of business," he says.
EDUCATION FUNDING: The legislator has lobbied consistently to put more resources into classrooms, and he's been a leading advocate for reforming the state's antiquated funding formula that sends Charleston County tax dollars to pay for schools in smaller, rural districts.
SALES TAX: Stavrinakis has been strongly opposed to recommendations from the legislature's Tax Realignment Adjustment Commission, which recently supported putting taxes on basic needs like groceries and utilities, as well as an increase in the state's gas tax. "We wanted to figure out how to stabilize our income base, not to increase tax burdens," he says of the commission's task. "Until you get your house in order, you have no right to go out and ask people to spend more on taxes."
ABOUT THAT OTHER GUY: Edwards has been a strong proponent of a flat tax on all goods and services. Stavrinakis argues that would only benefit the very wealthy who feel overburdened by the state's income taxes, while costing middle- and low-income families more. Edwards says the tax would put more money in the hands of the employers who are creating jobs.
For more info on Stavrinakis, visit leonforhouse.com.