Debate over new state budget begins on SC House floor

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — Last year, lawmakers didn’t pass a state budget due to economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday afternoon, the House started their deliberations on a new budget plan.

House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith (R-District 67) said South Carolina is in a good place financially, but we aren’t out of the woods just yet.

“Our economy, despite the setbacks, has remained strong throughout the pandemic and is showing growth right now,” Representative Smith said.

He added South Carolina is one of the few states that hasn’t had to make cuts or lay-off state employees due to the pandemic. He said they feel the economy has stabilized enough to move forward with a conservative budget plan.

He said his committee wanted to put together a budget that focused on the core functions of state government – law enforcement and education.

Chairman Smith said, “We increased the base student cost to $2500 per student which costs about $73 million.”

The budget proposal his committee okayed includes teacher step increases (mandated by state law) and pay bumps for law enforcement officers and prison staff. According to Smith, they are taking a wait and see approach on the plan before spending any extra money.

Some of the proposals in the budget plan being debated on the House floor include:

  • $500 million for the state emergency fund
  • $90 million for state prison upgrades
  • $30 million for rural broadband expansion

Rep. Smith said lawmakers have spent a lot of time at improving broadband access in the state since the start of the pandemic.

According to Chairman Smith, this version of the budget may not be what’s finalized later this year. State lawmakers could come back after the session ends and put together a new plan before July.

He said, “If the Board of Economic Advisors certifies more money, which we anticipate in May, we’ll come back and start this process over and rewrite a budget.”

Smith said he will advocate for pay raises for state workers if revenue estimates improve later this spring. “They have done yeoman’s work during this pandemic and they need to be rewarded.”

The House will continue to debate the budget plan on the floor and will vote on it later this week.

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