South Carolina’s nearly $11 billion budget was sent to the governor’s desk on Monday as lawmakers cut close the deadline to get the spending plan in place before it begins July 1.
There is something for almost everyone in the budget, including raises for most state employees, teachers and law enforcement officers. It also includes money to expand the port in Charleston, repair college buildings and place a police officer and nurse in every public school in the state. Lawmakers also have earmarked funds for dozens of local projects such as downtown renovations, lighthouse repairs or art programs.
What passed Monday doesn’t include the $2.5 billion that lawmakers will control of the nearly $9 billion South Carolina is getting from federal COVID-19 relief. How to spend that money will be debated later this year.
Gov. Henry McMaster has until the end of Saturday to decide if he wants to veto any individual items in the spending plan. The General Assembly plans to return June 29 to decide whether to override any of them.
The Republican governor has made it a point to work with the Republican-dominated General Assembly throughout the budget process since taking office in 2017. McMaster issued only 28 budget vetoes the last time lawmakers wrote a full budget, in 2019.
The General Assembly saved almost all the extra money left over after the 2019 budget by keeping spending levels the same, fearing a massive COVID-19 economic downturn.
But things weren’t as bad as feared, and South Carolina lawmakers had nearly $2 billion more to spend in the 2021 budget, most of it one-time money from lawsuit settlements or saved from the previous spending plan instead of extra tax revenue from growth that could be counted on each year.
The House approved the budget 107-4 and the Senate passed it 39-5.
The spending plan also sets aside $600 million in a rainy day fund in case there is a sudden economic downturn and revenue collected in the 2021-22 fiscal year falls below what was predicted. That money could prevent midyear cuts, Rep. Bruce Bannister said.
“On July 1 we’d have twice as much in reserve as we normally would carry and I think there is at least some sense we would adjust those reserves to make them higher so we would always have enough money,” Bannister, a Republican from Greenville, said at last week’s conference committee meeting where the House and Senate worked out their differences.
The budget that is heading to the governor’s desk includes:
— $60 million for a 2.5% raise for all state employees.
— $72 million to give every teacher in the state a $1,000 raise.
— Raises and bonuses of differing amounts for a number of state law enforcement agencies.
— $100 million to build schools in rural areas that lack a large property tax base.
— $200 million to start expanding the Port of Charleston with more railroads and a barge that could carry cargo from one terminal to another. The Senate passed a $550 million borrowing bill to do the same thing earlier this year, but agreed with the House to spend the money out of pocket.
— $500 million to repair buildings and for general maintenance at colleges and universities and $40 million to help them not raise tuition.
— About $6 million to ensure every school in the state has a nurse on campus.
— $29 million to make sure every public school in the state has a police officer.