Politics & Government

SC Gov. McMaster OK’s teacher raises, refund for taxpayers in $9B budget

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster Wednesday vetoed a total $40.7 million from the state’s $9.3 billion spending plan — leaving in place hundreds of millions of dollars to give pay raises to teachers, state employees and judges, and to return some money to taxpayers.

The Governor’s Office pitched this year’s budget, which starts July 1, as “very education heavy,” calling this year’s spending the first step of many to help raise the average teacher pay to the nearly $60,000 national average in five years and raise K-12 spending overall.

Weighing in on the third state budget since he took office, McMaster stripped very little from the budget — a result this year of early collaboration between the GOP governor and State House leaders. Over last year’s spending, this year’s budget grew by more than 3%, with McMaster’s vetoes targeting less than 1% of about $9.3 billion in spending.

“To my colleagues in the General Assembly, I say the people of South Carolina saw the year begin with our pledges of cooperation, communication and collaboration,” McMaster told reporters. “I believe this state budget embodies that commitment. I ask that we continue to work together vigorously, thereby ensuring that future generations of South Carolinians can keep winning and prospering.”

State lawmakers will return to Columbia on June 25 to vote to override or sustain McMaster’s vetoes.

Included in what the governor slashed on Wednesday was $6.5 million for the state’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department for a sports marketing grant program and a combined $2.7 million to pay to sink an old submarine — the USS Clamagore — at Patriots Point.

McMaster, however, did not touch spending aimed at paying teachers and some state employees more:

$11 million lawmakers added to the budget to raise judges’ salaries by 33%

A $600 one-time bonus on top of a 2% pay raise this year for roughly 32,000 S.C. state employees, and

Nearly $160 million to bump up the state’s starting teacher pay to $35,000, to help the state’s lowest-paying districts and to raise teacher salaries by at minimum 4% in an effort to help districts recruit and retain teachers to fill classroom vacancies.

McMaster also did not strike money — $61. 4 million windfall the state’s historic lottery winnings, plus $6 million more — to give a taxpayers a one-time refund in the form of a $50 check per S.C. tax return, an idea he proposed in his executive budget in January.

McMaster also used Wednesday’s press conference to put pressure on senators to pass a proposal aimed at improving the state’s K-12 public education system. Senate Education Committee chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, has said his committee will work through the legislation this fall, taking a vote on the Senate floor when lawmakers return in January.

“The Senate (should) return to Columbia and finish the work on the education reform bill that the House has passed,” McMaster said, adding he had spoken to Senate leadership, and, “they’re thinking about it.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that lawmakers will return to Columbia on June 25 to take up McMaster’s vetoes.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn 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.