October 21, 2014

SC Big Story: What’s included in House’s $24.5 billion spending plan?

State Rep. Bill Sandifer speaks during floor debate Tuesday (Image: SCETV)

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, speaks during floor debate Tuesday (Image: SCETV)

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government

The South Carolina House of Representatives gave its early approval Tuesday of a $24.5 billion spending plan (including $7 billion in General Fund tax revenue) for the next fiscal year. The 115-2 vote followed a more than 12-hour session in which well over 100 amendments were proposed, accepted or rejected.

The House will send the budget to the Senate after another procedural vote Wednesday morning.

The sole “no” votes were State Reps. Ralph Norman, R-Tega Cay, and Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg.

Here’s a brief roundup of what’s included:

— The budget will not expand Medicaid eligibility after Republicans successfully rejected the idea in a party-line 75-41 vote. Democrats argued the federal government would have paid the entire cost to cover more than 300,000 uninsured South Carolinians through 2017. But Republicans said the state lacks the resources to continue the program after that… Members also rejected an effort by House Democrats to add $537 million in funding for K-12 education. State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, had wanted to bring levels in line with a state funding formula. But budget-writers said the state lacked the money for such an investment.

— The House did approve a state takeover of a school for at-risk youth. The John de la Howe School in McCormick is a state-operated school that has been plagued by recent financial troubles. The State newspaper reports the school opened as an orphanage and now operates as a residential facility for children with behavioral issues from across the state. Much of the school’s leadership has left this year and South Carolina’s Inspector General issued a scathing report last year identifying management issues and high costs.

— The House narrowly gathered enough votes to create a program that allows town and county governments to buy small stretches of state-owned roads (Background). South Carolina currently has the nation’s fourth-largest state-owned road network despite being 40th in size. And State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, said the Palmetto State lacks the ability to adequately pay for maintenance. The hope is that municipal governments will take over some roads that require repairs. But opponents are concerned that the state would withhold money from those counties that do not participate.

— The House easily defeated a second attempt to eliminate the lieutenant governor’s security detail on Tuesday. The move that would have instead reassigned those officers was pushed by Rep. Bakari Sellers, a Bamberg Democrat who is seeking the Lt. Gov. position this fall. Sellers questioned if security guard for a largely ceremonial officer are the best use of state funds. But GOP leaders were able to sway most legislators by noting that current Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell has been on the receiving end of several death threats.

— House GOP members were able to get language included in the budget that guarantees college students have a right to distribute both the U.S. and state constitutions on college campuses. The House voted 84-29 to bar public colleges from restricting anyone’s ability to distribute copies of the constitutions on campus, as long as it doesn’t disrupt class. Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington, said he wanted to avoid what happened in Modesto, California last September, when an officer stopped a student from distributing the documents. Democrats questioned if it was truly needed.

— You may recall our “SC Big Story” from Tuesday, noting how most of Monday’s debate focused on Republicans’ efforts to punish the College of Charleston and USC-Upstate for requiring incoming freshmen to read gay-themed literature. That language remained in the budget.

— Lawmakers also scrapped a plan to require that new school buses have  wireless internet capability. Robert Kittle of Media General reports the plan was to originally have the buses park in a central location to create internet access for rural schools. But House budget-writers balked after learning it would cost an additional $5,000 per bus for the “Wi-Fi” ability.

— Republicans with the Beaufort County delegation were able to get language included that requires a shuttered port in the town of Port Royal to be sold by June 2015 or otherwise go into option (Background)