Senate backs $800 bonus for state employees

Senators gave initial approval late Thursday to a one-time $800 bonus for state employees who make less than $100,000 a year.

If approved by the House, the bonus likely would paid out around Christmas, said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who sponsored the proposal. The pay bump is dependent on the state’s revenues exceeding the level officially forecast by the Board of Economic Advisers.

The bonus was OK’d after Senate Democrats and Republicans compromised, reducing its size from $900, a move that cut the cost to taxpayers to $23.5 million from $25.5 million.

“This is money that we all hope that the (Board of Economic Advisers) may recognize at some point in the next few weeks,” state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who helped negotiate the deal, told senators. “We don’t know whether they will. We don’t know how much that’ll be.”

Senators also voted to use $4.1 million of expected surplus revenues to help counties pay for cleanup costs stemming from the 2014 ice storm.

The remainder of any state surplus — size now unknown — will be sent to counties to pay for road resurfacing and rehabilitation projects.

State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, had been prepared to filibuster the bonus, arguing any state surplus should go solely to road repairs instead of a increasing the state gas tax, as most senators and House members propose to do.

The bonus must be OK’d by the House or included in a compromise budget to be worked out by a joint House-Senate conference committee.

Neither the House’s budget plan nor the Senate’s spending proposal includes a pay raise for state workers in the fiscal year that starts July 1. Instead, the House and Senate budgets include the state picking up all the higher cost of health-care benefits for state employees.

Legislators gave state workers a 2 percent pay increase last year.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

Senates approve spending nearly $7 billion

Senators late Thursday approved their version of the state general fund budget that takes July 1. Some highlights:

K-12 education: Senators approved increasing the amount schools receive for each student by $100 to $2,220. While far less than state law says schools should get, it is the same amount the S.C. House approved and would add $94 million to the state budget.

Social Services: Senators approved roughly $9 million for 262 new Social Services employees, including child caseworkers and assistants. That is the number requested by that embattled agency and a change from the House budget proposal, which included giving raises to current Social Services workers in an attempt to cut down on turnover at the agency, rather than hiring more workers.

Police body cameras: Senators approved spending $3.4 million for 2,000 body cameras for police officers and the equipment needed to store videos digitally.

Roads: Senators approved using surplus money —revenues that exceed Board of Economic Advisers projections — to give most state employees a bonus, help counties pay for winter storm cleanup costs and to repair state roads. Senators also approved using $50 million in state revenue to borrow roughly $500 million for road repairs, the same as the House.