A South Carolina House committee Thursday gave final approval to a $6.5 billion general fund budget for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1 that includes raises for state employees and teachers, hiring 45 new SLED agents and giving $30 million to local governments for repair roads.
Coupled with money from the state’s so-called “other funds” – made up of fines and fees – and federal money, the proposed budget, if it wins approval, would put state spending at $23 billion for next year.
In passing their spending plan, House budget writers rejected Gov. Nikki Haley’s $75 million proposal to pay local governments to take over the maintenance of some state roads and another proposal to cut taxes by $140 million, eliminating corporate income taxes and consolidating some individual income tax brackets.
However, the biggest difference between Haley’s proposed executive budget – her first as the state’s chief executive – and the spending plan that House budget writers approved is in K-12 education.
Haley proposed reducing basic per-pupil spending. Lawmakers instead added $152 million.
Despite that increase, the House Ways and Means Committee did not fully fund education. According to state law, basic spending should be $2,790 a student. It is $2,012 under the House plan.
Other differences between the Haley, and Ways and Means budget plans include:
• A 2 percent pay raise for state employees and teachers, and a 5 percent pay raise for some statewide law enforcement officers. Haley’s budget included no raises.
• No new state troopers. Haley’s budget included money for 40 new troopers.
• $180 million to deepen the port of Charleston. Haley’s budget included $25 million for “port infrastructure.”
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Haley, who is attending a Republican governors’ meeting in Washington, would not give a “blow-by-blow” response to the budget as it winds its way through the Legislature.
“While we may ultimately have our disagreements with the General Assembly over how to treat individual programs, she expects a responsible spending plan to arrive on her desk at the end of this process," Godfrey said in an email to The State newspaper.
Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said he was pleased with the budget proposal, saying the biggest disagreement between Republicans, who control the House and Senate, and Democrats came over not fully funding local governments. That decision could turn into a fight on the House floor, Ott said.
Other items in the budget include:
• Spending $104 million in non-recurring state revenues, mostly, for construction projects. One of its largest projects is $10 million for a new USC Law School. “It’s just not acceptable to have a law school that’s got rooms in the building that you can’t go into because we haven’t maintained the upkeep on them,” Ott said.
Using $28 million to add about 70,000 more children to the state’s Medicaid program. In 2014, the state’s Medicaid rolls are projected to add 500,000 people as part of the new federal health-care law. Adding the children now will help soften the blow of that influx, said Jeff Stensland, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
• Giving $30 million to county transportation commissions to repair local roads. Democrats want the money moved to the local government fund, allowing local governments to decide how to spend it.
The full House of Representatives will debate the budget beginning March 12. After House approval, the budget plan goes to the state Senate and, ultimately, Gov. Haley.