$100M for rural roads part of $10B budget going to SC House
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s $10 billion state spending plan is on its way to the House floor after the budget writing committee made only a few changes to the governor’s proposal.
One chief addition the House Ways and Means approved Thursday was adding a state disaster relief fund that can be tapped for floods, storms or other disasters either before federal help comes or if the damage isn’t widespread enough for federal money.
The committee put $25 million into the fund, which was the amount the state budget gave farmers hurt by floods in 2019.
An additional $100 million to pave and repair rural roads was also added to the budget. The money is outside of the state’s gas tax which has been increasing steadily under a highway improvement plan passed by lawmakers in 2017.
Supporters said many rural roads in South Carolina are in dire shape and need work now, and an additional $1 billion in money from lawsuit settlements and other one-time sources gives them the ability to tackle the problem immediately. The committee sends $77 million to the state Department of Transportation and $33 million to counties to spend on the roads they think need the most work.
“People are going to see substantive progress on our most dangerous roads,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Murrell Smith said.
House budget writers agreed with Gov. Henry McMaster to give state employees $33 million in raises, but to allow agency leaders to determine which workers get the extra money and how much they get. The money is enough for an across the board 2% raise.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter didn’t propose any change to the budget item for raises at the committee, but promises she would push for an across the board raises of either 2.5% or 5% when the budget gets to the House floor next week so the lowest paid public employees don’t get left behind.
“Don’t take that to mean I don’t have a little something, something for this year,” the Democrat from Orangeburg said at Wednesday’s meeting.
Smith said having the governor work with him and other budget committee members has made writing the spending plan much easier. The Sumter Republican said McMaster met with any Ways and Means member who wanted to talk about spending.
“It’s nice to have a governor who wants to have discussions with you before you start a budget process,” said Smith, alluding to the two previous Republican governors who wrote their budgets on their own and often tangled with lawmakers later.
Other items in the budget heading to the House floor next week:
— More than $200 million for a previously announced $3,000 raise for all of South Carolina’s more than 50,000 public school teachers.
— $120 million set aside for income tax relief and $128 million for income tax rebates. Those amounts could change on the House floor and when the budget gets to the Senate.
— $100 million to for safety upgrades at state prisons, including a new electronic cell locking system to replace the key-based system used now.
— Almost $10 million for security upgrades and extra employees at the Department of Juvenile Justice, an item with extra weight after the federal government threatened to sue South Carolina over the condition of juvenile prisons.
— $38 million for state law enforcement agencies to increase salaries and recruitment to spend as they see fit.
— $9 million so every beneficiary on the state employees health plan can get a free checkup each year as well as paying for any increases in health insurance for state employees next year.
This story corrects the amount of money set aside for income tax relief to $120 million.
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