A $29 state income tax cut, 10 new state troopers, help with medical waiting lists and a 2 percent raise for firefighters at the state Forestry Commission are some of the highlights from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley's executive budget proposal.
The first term Republican governor -- who is running for reelection in November -- recommended the state spend $238 million more from its general fund than it did last year, a growth of 3.7 percent. Total, the governor is recommending the state spend $6.6 billion in the general fund for the budget year that begins July 1.
The general fund includes state income and sales taxes, but does not include federal money and other funds, such as fines and fees. The state's total budget is more than $22 billion.
The Department of Mental Health was the big winner, with Haley recommending a 5.1 percent increase from the state's general fund -- more than any other agency. If approved by the legislature, the budget allocation would mark a $50 million increase in the department's budget since Haley took office.
Haley also proposed spending $3.6 million to hire 25 more SLED agents, including four people in the child fatality unit , four alcohol enforcement officers, five narcotics officers, one public corruption investigator and one insurance fraud investigator. She also proposed spending an extra $2.1 million to hire 10 more state troopers, one year after lawmakers approved money to hire 30 new troopers.
For the second year in a row, the governor proposed a small state income tax cut by eliminating the 6 percent tax bracket, saving some taxpayers $29 a year. House Republicans are considering a bill that would go further by combining the state's 3 percent, 5 percent and 6 percent brackets into one 3.5 percent bracket, saving some taxpayers $86 a year.
The governor also is proposing spending $44.8 million to move about 1,400 disabled people off of waiting lists and into programs for intellectual disabilities. Enrollment for those programs has increased 8 percent over the last few years, but the waiting lists for those programs have increased 198 percent, according to the governor's office.
The governor did not recommend a pay raise for the state's more than 56,000 state employees, but she did propose a 2 percent increase for firefighters at the state Forestry Commission -- workers who were left out of the public safety pay raise from two years ago.
The governor's budget proposal is the first step in the 2014-15 budget process. Her recommendations now go to House lawmakers, who will pass their own version of the budget in March. The Senate will pass its version in May, and the two sides will reconcile their differences in June before sending the budget back to Haley for her approval.
South Carolina's constitution requires the state to pass a balanced budget.