Legislature begins 2013 budget debate: 5 things to watch — South Carolina House budget writers meet today to begin crafting the states $23 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers will spend most of their time discussing the $6.9 billion general fund, money that mostly comes from sales taxes, and corporate and individual income taxes. Next month, the full House of Representatives will debate the budget, which then goes to the Senate. After differences between the House and Senate plans are ironed out, the budget goes to Gov. Nikki Haley, who must sign off on the spending plan or veto part or all of it by June 30. Five key issues to watch:
Lawmakers must decide if the federal-state Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled should be expanded, and whether the state health plan should comply with Obamacare, potentially saving money long term. Republicans, who control the Legislature, vow not to expand Medicaid, saying it would cost a total of $1 billion by 2020. Lawmakers have options with the state health plan, ranging from $53 million, for not complying, to $124 million, for full compliance. Likely? The low range.
Last year, lawmakers budgeted $2,012 per student. This year, lawmakers will need an extra $20 million just to keep spending at the same level. Lawmakers would need to add about $600 million to fully fund the per-pupil amount according to state law. Most lawmakers say that added money is out of reach. Likely? A little more than $20 million.
Gov. Nikki Haley wants the state to spend $3 million for cyber-security upgrades after hackers stole the personal information of 6.4 million consumers, children and businesses from the state Revenue Department. Last week, the Board of Economic Advisors added $117 million in one-time money to the state budget, and House budget chairman Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, indicated lawmakers could use some of that money to set up a cyber-security fund. Likely? More than $3 million.
Prisons and probation
Sentencing reform means the states prison population is declining while the number of nonviolent offenders on probation and parole is increasing. Faced with those new realities, the Department of Corrections wants to spend an extra $18 million on its most dangerous prisons and to give raises to the officers that work in those prisons. The Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole also says it needs $2 million to hire more people to monitor those on probation. Likely? Roughly $20 million.
South Carolina needs $29 billion over the next 20 years to repair state-owned roads and bridges, according to a transportation report. House Republicans are pushing a bill that would spend 80 percent of the money from vehicle sales taxes for road repairs about $80 million a year. Gov. Nikki Haley wants lawmakers to use portions of budget surpluses this year and in the future to pay for repairs. Likely? A little of both.