S.C. lawmakers reach budget deal a day after tense meeting
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Negotiators have finally worked out a compromise for the next state budget in South Carolina.
It follows weeks of lengthy and sometimes stalled negotiations – and even a public airing of grievances among lawmakers over one project in particular.
If all goes according to plan – thousands of state employees, law enforcement, and teachers in South Carolina will see their pay go up in just a few weeks – with lawmakers coming to an agreement on the next state budget.
“I would say the most transparent budget we’ve ever had in the history of this state, and the budget is balanced,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Harvey Peeler.
For the second year in a row, the budget includes another cut to the state’s top income tax rate, which will drop down to 6.4%.
State employees will get at least a 5% raise.
State law enforcement and corrections officers and nurses are getting a pay bump too.
And the starting salary for teachers will rise another $2,500 – up to $42,500.
More than $1 billion of the nearly $14 billion spending plan is an incentive package for Scout Motors to build a new plant in Richland County.
It also includes an important request from the governor to allocate $200 million to the state’s Office of Resilience for natural disaster relief.
“This budget is a really good piece of legislation for the state of South Carolina,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bruce Bannister. “I think it takes care of our kids and our teachers and our law enforcement.”
But just the day before the compromise was struck, tension over one project in particular played out in public.
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It concerned how much money to give Clemson – to start South Carolina’s first veterinary school – with senators advocating for much more than House members.
“How is this not, at this point, an impasse over a budget where we’re putting pets over people?” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland.
Peeler said: “Get caught up with what we’ve been trying to do for the last few weeks, because what you’re saying is not correct.”
Lawmakers worried the disagreement could stall lengthened negotiations even further – potentially preventing those raises and additional funding for other projects from kicking in by July first.
“Brinksmanship is bad for everybody,” Bannister said. “We didn’t need to wait until June 27, which is sort of what it looked like we were headed to.”
But just a day later, they returned to discussions and agreed to give the vet school more than $100 million, clearing the way for approval of the entire spending plan.
“That’s what it’s all about: Compromising for a good product, and I think we have an excellent product,” Peeler said.
The budget still needs approval from the entire General Assembly – which will return here next week – and the governor – who typically vetoes parts of it.
Once it’s signed – it’ll go into effect July 1.
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