SC senators to decide between money for local government, 4K

05/06/2014 8:52 PM

05/06/2014 8:54 PM

A state Senate leader proposed Tuesday restoring money that Senate budget writers cut from local governments to extend the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program to more at-risk students.

As the Senate started its budget debate, Sen. Larry Martin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposed senators give to local governments $16 million of the $24 million in new money that the Senate Finance Committee voted to use to expand 4K. Senate budget writers had voted to pay for 4K first and then restore the $16 million to local governments later, if the state brings in more revenue than expected.

Martin proposed swapping the priorities.

“I’m just saying put it back (for local governments), and if the (surplus) money’s there for this expanded (4K) program, we’ll fund it,” said the Pickens Republican.

About $8 million in new money would stay in the budget to expand 4K, under Martin’s proposal.

City and county governments can’t operate on hoped-for money, said Martin, whose proposal likely will be debated Wednesday. Martin added he would like to find add another $10 million to $20 million for local governments if possible in the state’s budget that takes effect July 1.

By law, the state should pay 4.5 percent of its general fund revenue collections from the previous fiscal year to local governments. But that hasn’t happened since the Great Recession struck. This year, local governments should get $287.5 million. If Martin succeeds in getting the $16 million restored, local governments will get about $213 million.

S.C. State University’s finances also could be a divisive issue as senators debate the budget.

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, made a procedural point to slow down the budget review, saying he wanted a chance to review the spending plan to see if money can be found to bail out S.C. State, which has a $13.6 million deficit. The state Budget and Control Board voted last week to give S.C. State a $6 million loan, under certain conditions.

“I’m concerned .. for South Carolina State,” Malloy said, adding he also was disappointed in the school.

“Candidly, they need some oversight,” Malloy said. “But I cannot punish the children that are there and the children of tomorrow in their education for the malfeasance, for the lack of prudency, for those people that were in leadership there.”

The budget adopted by the Senate will have to return to the House to work out differences between the two bodies’ spending plans before it goes to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature or vetoes.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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