Budget deal includes 2% pay hike for SC state workers, 4K expansion

06/04/2014 11:57 PM

03/14/2015 7:52 AM

State employees will get a 2 percent pay raise, 4-year-old kindergarten will expand and local governments will get more state money as part of a $7 billion budget deal that the S.C. House and state Senate passed Wednesday.

The deal came a day before legislators go home for the year. However, the compromise killed the Senate’s one-time $300 bonus for state employees.

“We say we want to run government like a business,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, defending the pay raises. “A vital part of every business is its employees.”

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Part of the money for the pay came raise came from $86 million that the state Board of Economic Advisors added to the state’s revenues last month.

Lawmakers repeatedly have called the budget, which takes effect July 1, an “education budget” because of the new school spending included.

One education issue, expanding 4K, was one of the sticking points that legislators worked to compromise.

The $20 million 4K expansion approved is about $4 million less than the Senate had proposed. However, the House’s budget did not include any added money for the program.

The expansion will include school districts where 70 percent or more of students get free or reduced-price lunches or are on Medicaid, two measures of poverty. The expansion would make 4K available in 10 additional school districts on top of the 51 districts, with 75 percent of students in poverty, where it is now available.

“This is critical,” said Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, adding if the state can make an at-risk child successful, that benefits the child and state.

The Democratic-supported program has is an agenda item for Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who is running for governor against Republican Gov. Nikki Haley in November.

Republican education plans also got a big nod in the budget.

The Senate and the House agreed to put about $180 million toward Haley’s education proposals, including nearly $30 million for reading coaches and $4.5 million to expand summer reading camps.

“Today, all of South Carolina can celebrate a major transformation in the way we educate our children and a truly historic moment in our state’s history,” Haley said in a news release. “The changes to our outdated funding formula and the investments in reading initiatives and technology will open doors for students that have been closed for too long.”

Another key compromise was on how much state money to give local governments, which legislators agreed to fund at the same level as last year – $213 million. The Senate had proposed taking away a portion of the local government money. However, the budget compromise put the money back in, as the House had proposed.

By law, the state should pay 4.5 percent of its general fund revenue collections during 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 but will be shortchanged nearly $75 million.

Critics have said that the state, by shortchanging local governments, forces cities and counties to raise taxes.

The budget now goes to Haley. Lawmakers plan to return to Columbia June 17 to take up any budget vetoes.

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