Gov. Henry McMaster called Wednesday for the state Senate to find money in the state's next budget to cover the cost of hiring more school resource officers to protect S.C. schools.
McMaster made his call after S.C. House adopted a $8.2 billion general fund budget proposal without the $5 million that the Republican governor requested to hire more officers.
The House's budget proposal also does not include pay raises for all state workers.
Late Tuesday, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, ripped her House colleagues, calling it embarrassing that, year after year, they fail to pay state workers enough to keep them on the job and fill vacancies. House members adopted the budget proposal in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
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The House budget proposal, for the fiscal year that starts July 1, now heads to the S.C. Senate.
McMaster's executive budget proposal included $5 million to hire at least 75 trained officers for poor, rural schools.
But that request never was considered by House budget writers. An effort Tuesday, led by state Rep. Josiah Magnuson, R-Spartanburg, to shift $5 million from the state's Parks, Recreation and Tourism budget to hire the officers failed.
McMaster made his request in January, a little more than a month before 17 students and coaches were slain at a Florida high school on Valentine's Day. (A school resource officer was stationed at the Parkland, Fla., high school but did not go inside during the shooting.)
Since then, the Richland Republican has pushed lawmakers — both verbally and on social media — for the money.
Of the state's 1,195 public schools, 607 have school resource officers. That leaves about 590 schools without officers. Putting an officer in each S.C. school would cost $60 million in the first year, the state Education Department estimates.
"I am very concerned about the safety of the school children in South Carolina," McMaster said Wednesday. "We must do this. I intend to see that it gets done."
How likely the Senate is to find money to pay for added school officers is unclear.
Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said he hopes the Senate seriously will consider McMaster's proposal.
"In many cases, the counties and the cities have been funding that for schools," said Setzler, who is on the Senate's budget-writing Finance Committee. "It's a state responsibility. I hope that it's looked at in the budget process."
However, a Republican state senator panned the idea.
"Five million dollars million won't do it, and I don't believe in gestures of goodwill," said Sen. Shane Martin, who also is on the Finance Committee.
Instead, the Spartanburg Republican said school districts should have the option to arm staff members. He also suggested freeing up state money — for example, S.C. Lottery dollars — to pay for more school security and giving more state money to local governments so they can hire more law enforcement officers.
The House's roughly 14-hour budget debate included at least two attempts to give pay raises to all state workers. However, the House approved raises only for teachers and correctional officers.
Rep. Cobb-Hunter twice proposed giving raises to all state workers.
"Are we going to continue to say to them (state workers) wait until next year?" Cobb-Hunter said.
Morale is at an all-time low among state workers, primarily because of low pay, advocates of state employees have told lawmakers.
About 75 percent of all state workers earn less than roughly $41,000 a year. Half earn less than about $34,000, according to the state Department of Administration.
A 2015 pay study found the pay of state workers lags 15 percent behind pay in other states, 16 percent behind other public-sector jobs in S.C. counties and cities, and 18 percent behind similar jobs in the state's private sector.
Like the House, the Senate will debate a budget largely consumed by rising health care costs. For instance, the House added $56.4 million to cover higher costs for more than 490,000 state workers, family members and retirees enrolled in the state's health care plan.
It also added $32.4 million to cover the higher costs of state workers' pensions.
To pay for a 2-percent raise for teachers, the House added nearly $60 million. It would cost more than $30 million to give all state employees a 2-percent pay raise.
That much money is a big hit to the state's budget, said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. "But we need to take those pay concerns seriously and try to keep our teachers and state employees at an adequate level."
But Cobb-Hunter said state workers need more than lip service from lawmakers.
"They can't take your good wishes to the bank and deposit them. .... We need to bite the bullet and say very clearly to state employees, ‘You matter. We value your work.’”