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State worker bonuses, teacher pay raises. How SC will spend $9 billion

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Is the South Carolina state compensation plan antiquated and dysfunctional? Consultant gives results

State workers, teachers and college students are winners in this year’s $9.3 billion state budget, which lawmakers gave final approval to Tuesday.

Thirty-two thousand S.C. state employees are slated to get a $600 one-time bonus added to a 2% pay raise this year after state lawmakers adopted the state’s spending plan — which starts July 1.

The budget still needs Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature to become law, and he has the right to issue vetoes if he objects to any part of it. However, the governor and lawmakers have worked closely together on the budget, meaning it’s unlikely McMaster will have major objections to the spending plan.

But S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said Tuesday he doesn’t plan to call the House back until next January to take up the governor’s vetoes, barring an “emergency.”

The budget also includes nearly $160 million to give teachers raises, while also raising pay for first-year teachers, and adds more than $150 million to help keep college tuition low for in-state students, including helping to pay for construction and renovation projects.

The chief state budget writer in the House, Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith, said Monday the budget is just the start, “rather than a resolution of issues.”

“This is a budget that we looked at places where we have not been concentrating as of late,” said the Sumter Republican. “We put a lot of emphasis on those teacher pay raises, employee pay raises, higher education. But we still also have a lot of areas to attend to.”

What’s in the state budget? Here are some highlights:

More money for SC teachers, state workers

The state’s more than 52,000 teachers can expect more money in their paychecks next year.

Starting July 1, lawmakers have agreed to spend about $159 million to raise starting teacher pay to $35,000, up from $32,000. Teachers are slated to get at minimum a 4% pay raise, with newer, less experienced teachers getting more — in effort to fill classroom vacancies.

The raise is part of a five-year effort to raise the average teacher salary to the national average of nearly $60,000, state leaders say.

It also comes after about 10,000 teachers and their allies protested May 1 at the capitol for higher pay and better working conditions.

“I see this as the best budget for education ... passed in my near 19 years as (Senate) Finance Committee chair,” state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

State employees also will get more money in their pockets next year.

The budget includes $41 million to give 32,000 state employees a 2% raise, the first pay increase most of those employees have received in two years. Employees who earn less than $70,000 a year also will get a $600 bonus — at a total cost of $20 million.

“The effort demonstrated by both the House and Senate conferees (is) very meaningful to employees,” said Carlton Washington, head of the S.C. State Employees Association. “It will do a lot to help shift morale in a very positive way.”

Lunch and a tank of gas on the state?

You didn’t win the state’s historic $1.5 billion Mega-Millions jackpot last fall.

That’s OK. We didn’t either.

But lawmakers and McMaster want to make sure you still get a piece of the winnings.

With Tuesday’s vote, lawmakers agreed to give the state’s $61.4 million tax windfall from the jackpot — plus $6 million more — back to taxpayers in the form of a $50 check per S.C. tax return, despite concerns from some lawmakers who wanted it spent elsewhere.

The checks would be issued by the state Revenue Department at a cost to the state of about $700,000.

It is unlikely to be vetoed by McMaster, who originally proposed the idea back in January when he released his executive budget.

SC black technical college gets reprieve

The state’s sole historically black technical school can keep its title under a move by state House and Senate lawmakers this week.

Despite a shrinking student enrollment, Denmark Technical College in Bamberg County will not be forced through the state’s budget to become a “trade school,” which the school’s leaders warned would effectively close the school and hurt the local economy.

Since 2008, enrollment at Denmark Tech has decreased 82 percent.

The state’s 44-member Legislative Black Caucus had advocated against making the historically black college a trade school, a change that some lawmakers unsuccessfully sought to include in the state’s budget.

“I want all members of the local community, as well as all alumni, faculty, current students, and prospective students to know: Denmark Tech is open for business,” said Black Caucus chairman and state Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, in a statement.

Lawmakers take position: no offshore drilling

Conservation advocates and coastal communities can breathe easy, at least for a year.

Lawmakers successfully attached to the budget a temporary law that for a year would limit offshore drilling off the S.C. coast. The move seeks to prohibit the state from approving any plans that would allow pipes, tanks and other onshore infrastructure needed by the drilling industry to support its operations.

After months of inaction on the question of offshore drilling, the budget puts the S.C. Legislature now on record against offshore oil drilling, joining the governor, who has opposed operations off the cost because of its potential impacts on the environment and tourism. Last month, the federal government said it would halt plans to expand offshore drilling operations indefinitely.

Reporter Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yawn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.

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