S.C. State House news: Spending plans take shape for pandemic aid

South Carolina State House
South Carolina State House(Gray)
Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 11:01 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - We now have a much clearer idea of how South Carolina plans to spend its $2.5 billion from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act.

This follows months of pitches from groups all wanting to get a piece of the pandemic stimulus package – and even the governor announcing his own proposals.

The state Senate and House of Representatives each recently passed their own separate bills for spending the money.

The two bills are largely the same – but there are some smaller differences – so members will have to negotiate what gets kept and what gets cut – when they send one final spending plan to the governor.

“Our state has received a level of one-time federal funding that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen coming into this state: $2.5 billion,” said state Sen. Harvey Peeler, Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The House and the Senate agree down to the dollar on giving about $453 million to the state Department of Transportation – to accelerate major projects like the Interstate 26 widening between Columbia and Charleston – and make up for lost gas tax revenue during the pandemic.

They’re also on the same page to put $400 million toward broadband expansion in rural areas.

In the highest-priced category, the Senate wants to spend $100 million more on water and sewer infrastructure improvements – which would include stormwater fixes under its plan.

The House plan would couple those stormwater improvements with flood-prevention money for the state to buy land that frequently floods – which the Senate plan does not include.

House members also want to put $8 million toward professional grant management services for this and other federal pandemic relief packages – again, not a part of the Senate plan.

“It is a plan, from our perspective as Ways and Means, that will make changes in a systemic way in this state,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

Both the Senate and House plans total out to around $1.7 billion dollars – less than the $2.5 billion the state is getting from the American Rescue Plan Act.

But state lawmakers can take all the way until 2024 to decide how they want to spend the money – so they’re leaving some money to be spent at a later date.

Local lawmaker revives vaccine mandate ban

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Republican leader in the South Carolina Senate is reviving a bill to prevent public employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

The proposal by Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, also would fine a private company requiring the shot $7,500 per employee fired because of that mandate.

A subcommittee approved the bill Thursday, sending it to the Senate Finance Committee.

The House passed a similar bill in December. It did not have the fine for private employers. Business groups like the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce say they will fight the bill — saying private companies should be able to decide without penalty whether to require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lawmakers advance bill to consider churches essential in emergencies

COLUMBIA, S.C. - A bill that would assure churches can meet in person in South Carolina during a pandemic or other emergency as long as other essential businesses can stay open is advancing in the state Senate.

A Senate subcommittee unanimously approved the bill last week, sending it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill passed the House last March.

Supporters of the bill say they know the state never closed any churches when other businesses were closed in spring 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic started.

But they say the proposal is needed to make sure it never happens. They note that other states did require churches to close.

House budget committee to take up $11.5B spending plan

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The budget committee in the South Carolina House is getting ready to take up the state spending plan for next year.

The House Ways and Means Committee is meeting starting Tuesday to consider the $11.5 billion budget the General Assembly controls for the fiscal year starting in July.

The committee is also considering the House’s income tax cut proposal which would spend about $1 billion to immediately drop the state’s top income tax rate from 7% to 6.5% on the way to eventually landing at 6%.

A booming economy and plenty of stimulus of COVID-19 relief money from the federal government has lawmakers with a considerable amount of extra money to spend.

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