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McMaster touts budget accomplishments, announces vetoes

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 3:54 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 8:00 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster says he vetoed 73 items from the state’s new spending plan.

McMaster began a news conference on his budget vetoes Wednesday with a mention of Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Deputy Austin Derek Aldridge, who died in the line of duty.

Aldridge was shot while responding to a domestic incident at approximately 3:20 a.m. Tuesday in the Oak Forest subdivision of Spartanburg County, investigators say. He died at the hospital at approximately 9:26 p.m. Tuesday.

McMaster said he has spoken with Sheriff Chuch Wright and called Aldridge “a fine young man.” He asked the public to keep Aldridge’s wife and family in their prayers.

McMaster touted a long list of accomplishments lawmakers achieved in the budget, starting with a reduction of state income taxes he and lawmakers had been pushing for.

“The largest income tax cut in our state’s history is now law,” he said. “This year marked the fourth year that my Executive Budget proposed a 1% rate reduction over five years for all personal income tax brackets. As has been noted often, South Carolina had the highest personal income tax rate in the southeast and the 12th highest in the nation. Now, the largest income tax cut in our state’s history is now a reality, partnered with a $1 billion income tax rebate. This will help keep South Carolina competitive for new jobs and investment for years to come. But we must do more. We must continue to reduce the tax and regulatory burdens on our people.”

The budget also includes a record number of McMaster’s executive budget proposals that include teacher pay raises and investment into the state’s infrastructure.

“We have demonstrated our continued commitment to attract and retain our talented teachers. This state budget raises the minimum starting salary for new public school teachers to $40,000 a year, up from $30,000 just five years ago,” he said. “And we reformed how the state funds public education, consolidating several separate funding streams that flowed from the state to the local school district and into the classroom. Now every state dollar follows the child, and every parent will know how their school district spends every single dollar and how their child’s school performs compared to others.”

McMaster vetoes $52.6 million from budget

McMaster applauded the General Assembly for passing what he called “the most transparent and accountable budget in modern times.”

“After decades of overriding vetoes of governor after governor, the legislature and the leadership of the House and Senate took the unprecedented step requiring public disclosure of the sponsors and the recipients of earmarked appropriations,” he said. But saying the disclosures of sponsors and recipients alone is not enough, he said he requested more information about how earmarked appropriations would be spent.

“Most of the members responded with the information request, some did not and that led into some of these vetoes,” he said.

He did not provide specific items but described the types of listings that received vetoes. He said about 30 items vetoed included earmarks that listed a dollar amount of $1 with the intention of adding the actual amount at a later time.

“So of course, I vetoed all of those,” he said. “There were some where there were duplications, where money was asked for in two different places, for the same thing. Of course, I vetoed those. Some of them we vetoed because it didn’t seem to be a good expenditure of state money at all.”

The specific items vetoed were included in a release from the governor’s office shortly after the news conference.

Members of the state’s General Assembly sent the $14 billion state budget to McMaster for his signature on June 15 after working out differences over the House and Senate’s spending plans.

The focal point of this budget is a restructuring of South Carolina’s income tax brackets that will cut the state’s top rate down from 7% to 6.5% when people file next year — around $600 million in reductions — and then gradually down to 6% over the next five years — about $1 billion in cuts when fully implemented. Most people who pay income taxes in South Carolina are in this bracket.

The plan collapses the other current tax brackets of 6%, 5%, 4%, and 3% into one bracket taxed at 3%.

It also includes $1 billion in direct rebates to income taxpayers. Checks would be sent out in November or December this year with amounts based on how much people paid in state income taxes, maxing out around $800.

A previous version of this rebate plan would have sent a check to anyone who filed state income taxes, but that was changed as the two chambers worked out a budget compromise to include only those who had actually paid those taxes.

Some South Carolina workers will see more in their paychecks next year too.

The budget raises the minimum salary at every cell on the teacher pay schedule by $4,000, including upping the statewide starting minimum salary from $36,000 to $40,000.

Lawmakers said school districts will receive enough money that they should be able to give raises to teachers already making above those new minimums.

“But that’s not ultimately our decision,” Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, said. “That’s going to be the decision of the school districts across the state, and they’re going to have to determine where they’re going to make their investments.”

State employees will receive a 3% raise and a one-time, $1,500 bonus, with another $38 million going toward increasing starting salaries for state law enforcement and corrections officers.

Between the budget and money from the federal government, another $1 billion will be spent on fixing South Carolina’s roads, with large chunks intended for expansion and widening projects on I-26 and I-95.

State budget writers had so much money to spend this year because of how South Carolina recovered economically from the pandemic, paired with the billions of dollars the federal government sent the state in pandemic relief.

But lawmakers also took more than $1 billion in the budget and put it in state reserves or left it unspent, which they said will prevent them from needing to make cutbacks in the event economic tides turn.

McMaster has been supportive of some of the major focuses of the spending plan, including the tax cuts and raises for teachers and law enforcement.

The General Assembly will return to Columbia near the end of June to respond to any vetoes the governor issues.

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