The Buzz

House panel OKs 1% pay raise for state employees

S.C. House budget writers propose to give South Carolina state employees a 1 percent pay raise in the budget that begins July 1.

They also propose forgiving $12 million loaned to S.C. State University.

Lawmakers have an added $1.2 billion to spend in the state’s $7.5 billion general fund budget that takes effect July 1.

In its proposal, which the full House and Senate must OK, the House Ways and Means Committee also approved picking up state employees’ increased health-care costs and the employer’s portion of retirement contributions. However, employees would have to pay a .5 percent increase for retirement contributions. With a 1 percent raise, the moves will cost a total of $61.5 million.

“We’ve got some great state employees,” said state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, who chairs the panel that oversees employee pay. Still, Herbkersman said he favors the state giving merit-based pay raises, as opposed to across-the-board increases.

The House budget panel’s proposal is lower than a 5 percent pay hike for state workers that a bipartisan group of state senators plans to push.

Separately, the panel approved “step” — or experience — increases for teachers and also raising their salaries by 2 percent.

The House budget panel also approved forgiving $12 million loaned to S.C. State University if the historically black college, which has struggled to pay its bills, meets benchmarks.

Those criteria include the school hiring a new president, maintaining its accreditation and having a balanced budget, said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, who chairs the subcommittee that decides higher education spending.

The House budget panel also approved:

▪  More than $351.6 million in added money for S.C. schools, including $217.6 million to increase the per-pupil money that schools get to $2,350, $19.2 million for bus driver salaries and $16.8 million for technology

▪  $250 million for roads, including $185 million to go to county transportation committees and another $65 million from sales tax collected on cars, which can be bonded

▪  $212.5 million for the local government fund — the same amount sent to counties and cities last year. The S.C. Association of Counties is disappointed, said Tim Winslow, the group’s legal counsel. He added many counties are struggling. The gap between what the state should send to counties for performing state-mandated functions is about $100 million. “The cost of running a county isn’t decreasing,” Winslow said.

▪  $129 million more to Health and Human Services Department to offset recurring expenses that come up every year that the agency has been paying for with savings

▪  $72 million for the state’s portion of flood-recovery costs, money that will match federal money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency

▪  $40 million for beach renourishment along the state’s coast

▪  $37.3 million for the Transportation Department for road repairs made during the flood

▪  $17 million for Department of Commerce’s deal-closing fund, used to entice companies to locate in S.C.

▪  $5 million for repairs to National Guard armories

▪  $661,500 for added dam-safety staff at the Department of Health and Environmental Control

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Reviving a bond bill?

State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, said Wednesday he will renew efforts for the state to borrow money to pay for deferrted maintenance at S.C. colleges.

Merrill said he will push for the plan when the full House considers the state budget next month. Merrill estimated the borrowing would be about $200 million.

Last year, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley pressured House members to kill a plan to borrow roughly $500 million, including money for colleges.

Merrill said S.C. colleges do not need to spend more money on new construction. But if the state does not take care of the buildings it already owns, it either will cost taxpayers through the state budget or cost parents and students through higher tuition.

Davis ends filibuster but ally starts a new one

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, on Wednesday ended his Senate filibuster of a road-repair bill. However, state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, a Davis ally, took over at the Senate podium.

Senators will return Thursday with Bright continuing to speak on the road-repair bill.

Davis filibustered the proposal for four days, opposing an increase to the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax in favor of using one-time and anticipated state surpluses to pay for billions in road repairs.

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