The House’s main budget panel approved a $24 billion spending plan on Thursday for next year that includes a 1.5 percent pay raise for state employees, 31 new State Law Enforcement Division agents and funding cuts to two colleges for requiring freshmen to read a gay-themed book.
The budget that heads to the House floor next week is $1.5 billion, or about 6 percent, more than a year ago. The budget includes $7 billion in state money and $17 billion in federal dollars.
S.C. economic forecasters have said state tax collections and other revenue are rising as the economy slowly exits from a lengthy downturn. They released an additional $108 million for lawmakers to spend, much of it from rising lottery ticket sales.
Lawmakers also spent $185 million in money left over from the current budget.
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If approved by the General Assembly, state workers would receive their 15th raise in the past 21 years -- but just their second over a six-year period. They did not get a raise this year.
State employees are not getting a health insurance premium hike, but they would pay up to 9 percent more in medical insurance co-pays to help offset higher costs.
SLED would add 10 people in its forensics labs, 17 alcohol enforcement officers and four more staffers to work with child deaths at a cost of $3.7 million. That was roughly half of the agency's requests for new agents and staff and did not include money sought to help curb the state's growing methamphetamine problem.
The Highway Patrol would receive $2.4 million for 10 new troopers and vehicles.
House budget makers also took away about $70,000 from the College of Charleston and USC Upstate for requiring freshmen last year to read books for gay themes. The amounts equal the cost of buying the books.
The budget panel allocated $4 million for a college efficiency review committee that will hire a consultant to find savings at public universities. Findings are due Feb. 1. Any savings found will be retained by the schools.
Another $3.5 million will go toward stipends to technical college students enrolled in science, technology engineering and manufacturing classes.
The fallout from the massive 2012 data breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue continues.
The budget would give $15 million for enacting computer security recommendations from a consultant in all agencies and $6.5 million for another year of free credit monitoring for the 6.4 million taxpayers and businesses whose tax information was stolen by hackers.
The budget includes at least $12 million for new school buses, $2 million to maintain a Sumter County toxic-waste dump, $2.5 million for new forestry commission fire equipment and firefighters, and $5 million for a planned update of voting machines.
The S.C. Department of Commerce, the state’s main jobs recruiter, would get $37 million to close economic-development deals next year, an increase from this year.
The commerce department also is slated to receive another $12.5 million for an office of innovation to work with high-tech companies, research initiatives with universities and a new program to prepare sites to attract potential industrial recruits.