The Buzz

State agency needs could quickly cut into added $1.2 billion

Requests for more money from state agencies quickly would chip away at the added $1.2 billion that lawmakers will have to spend in next year’s state budget.

Just three state agencies – out of nearly 100 – have asked for more than $400 million in added money for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Department of Education is asking for $227.4 million more to increase the amount that the state pays schools based on their student population by $150 to $2,370 a student.

State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, said state funding of K-12 education still has not recovered from the cuts made during the Great Recession.

Bingham, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee’s K-12 education subcommittee, said the Education Department’s request for more money was an “assertive, but realistic goal.”

Bingham added he supports the request.

The Department of Health and Human Services is asking for $149.4 million more to offset recurring expenses that come up every year that the agency had been paying for with savings.

Paying for recurring needs with savings “is a slippery road,” said state Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee.

“If we do not address those recurring needs now, we’re creating a greater disaster for us to have to deal with in the years to come,” said Alexander, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee subcommittee that oversees Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Services is asking for an added $32.6 million. In part, that money would go to hire 157 employees to help the embattled agency protect children and vulnerable adults.

Some of the money the state agencies are seeking is to offset cuts made during the Great Recession, , said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland. “Our answer to down times (was) always cut, cut, cut.”

In addition, lawmakers must choose whether to spend some of the added $1.2 billion to improve rural schools in response to a S.C. Supreme Court ruling, pay for flood-damage costs and repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

The added $1.2 billion includes $766.5 million in recurring money, which should be available to the state in future years, and $457.6 million in one-time money.

Lawmakers are going to have intense discussions about how to spend the money, said Jackson, whose Lower Richland district was hit hard by the floods. The flooding showed the state needs to prioritize its infrastructure spending, he said, adding lawmakers need to pay for repairs and then address long-term needs.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope