Budget debate begins this week in SC House

Budget debate begins this week in SC House
SC State House (Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina House members are getting ready to debate the state’s nearly $10 billion spending plan for next year.

The budget debate begins Monday with some routine votes.

More meaty debate is expected later in the week, and there will likely be even more budget debate this summer. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Murrell Smith said budget writers took a conservative approach.

Smith said they will wait and see how much money the state actually collects in taxes before deciding whether to add more to the spending plan such as a raise for all state employees. The current plan already sets aside $6 million to pay for all health and dental insurance premium increases for state workers.

The budget being debated includes small annual pay raises for teachers based on their years of service that typically boost their pay by several hundred dollars a year.

The budget adds about $16 million for similar small raises and other bonuses to retain police officers and prison workers.

The spending plan also includes $150 million to repair and renovate buildings at a number of colleges and universities and $31 million to cover state-granted scholarships in case there is a dip in the lottery revenues typically used to pay for them.

The 2021-22 fiscal year budget also sets up a state disaster relief fund with $50 million and spends $30 million to improve broadband internet, a need felt more severely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spending plan sets aside $5.5 million to put a nurse in every school, $21 million to try to jump-start the tourism industry after the pandemic nearly shut it down and $1 million to buy bulldozers and other wildfire fighting equipment for the state Forestry Commission with enclosed cabs to protect drivers.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.