S.C. House passes amended version of the state’s $10 billion budget

One lawmaker proposed a five percent base pay raise for all state employees

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —After only one day of formal debate, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted, 120-2, to pass their amended version of the 2020-21 state budget.

Armed with a nearly $2 billion surplus, lawmakers had been going back-and-forth Tuesday over what they want to use that money for, and how to allocate those funds to different agencies.

“This budget really is the four R’s, it’s relief–and that’s tax relief, it’s roads–extra money for roads, it’s reserves, and it’s raises,” said House Majority Leader Gary Simrill (R-York County).

Months after Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) proposed his budget, some lawmakers say plenty of groups have come forward asking for some help in the final version.

“So many state agencies, so many different groups are coming and saying we want a piece of that pie,” said Rep. Marvin Pendarvis (D-Charleston County). 

One group that looked to the House’s discussions for a larger slice of the pie is state employees.

In the early part of discussions Tuesday morning, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg County) wanted all state employees’ salaries to be bumped up 5%.

“Just like we have teachers holding down two jobs, we’ve got state employees who are doing the same, and if it’s not good enough for teachers, it’s not good enough for state employees,” Rep. Cobb-Hunter said.

However, some argue the boost state employees would get in the current budget already exceeds a five percent pay raise.

“We’ve got a lot of needs in South Carolina, and we’ve got to balance those out. Certainly, that doesn’t lessen the way we feel about our state employees, but I think when you look at the overall picture, that this is a budget we try to be fair in,” said Rep. Gary Clary (R-Pickens County).

Efforts to raise state employee salaries across the board up 2.5% and 5% respectively both failed with 76-44 votes.

The House’s budget allocates $42 million towards state employee pay raises, but how that money is dished out among employees will be determined by the individual department heads.

In addition to how to help state employees, some lawmakers want to make sure the reserves are well stocked in case the state needs money to combat the coronavirus.

“The budget does keep our reserves at a very healthy rate, however, I think we need to hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” said Rep. Seth Rose (D-Richland County).

House Majority Leader Simrill referenced how the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has been able to do free screening for COVID-19 online, saying that is possible due to a healthy amount of money in the reserve fund.

“When you look at what we can do to protect South Carolina citizens, all those parts come into play. Well, it doesn’t happen for free, but to have the reserves we have is extremely important,” Rep. Simrill said.

A notable highlight of this budget is $128 million will go towards a one-time non-refundable $100 tax credit for anyone who files a return in 2020 and owes at least $100 in taxes.

Other topics that came up included increasing the allowance for teachers to buy school supplies, the capping of tuition at state colleges and universities, an amendment from Rep. Wendy Brawley (D-Richland County) that would establish a pilot program for rural counties to combat the opioid epidemic, and an amendment from Rep. Josiah Magnuson (D-Greenville County) that would call for a study of state schools to see if they are teaching the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.

The only two lawmakers who voted against the budget were Rep. Jonathon Hill (R-Anderson County) and Rep. Stewart Jones (R-Laurens County).

The House will reconvene Wednesday to give the bill its third reading, before formally sending their budget over to the Senate.

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