The Ways and Means Committee of the South Carolina House continues its busy week of budget debate. Wednesday will be a particularly rough day for the heads of state agencies as well as committee members, as the main decisions are made affecting agency budgets in a year when the state’s government is facing a half-billion dollar budget gap.
Committee Chair Dan Cooper says it takes a few days to put the budget together, then Wednesday they “adopt the dollars,” applying revenues to various agencies.
Cooper says he wants agencies to receive as much flexibility as possible to deal with cuts, and that being able to take a furlough as holidays will help. Monday the budget committee passed an amendment that would give state workers a five-day furlough, which could be taken on state holidays.
Charleston Republican Chip Limehouse says as bad as this year is for budget writers, he’s actually not as concerned now as he will be this time next year. He says federal stimulus dollars have helped considerably this year.
On Tuesday, the Ways and Means Committee voted down an amendment that would have limited the number of out-of-state students that the state’s largest universities can take in. The legislation would have put a 35-percent cap on the number of out-of-state students allowed at the University of South Carolina, Clemson, the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston. The amendment was voted down on a close 12-10 vote.
Charleston Republican Chip Limehouse, who chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee, said that limiting the number of out-of-state students is a good idea, but not this year, when schools need the flexibility to increase their revenues.
(Limehouse on enrollment cap MP3 2:20)
Limehouse on enrollment caps
At least one state lawmaker plans to introduce a tobacco tax increase during Wednesday’s budget meeting. Orangeburg Democrat Gilda Cobb-Hunter told us that her proposal would generate $238 million annually for healthcare and raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 7 cents to $1.27. She notes that the cigarette tax increase has failed repeatedly in past years, even when its chances looked good, but she says she and others will not give up.
(Cobb-Hunter on tobacco tax proposal MP3 2:04)
Cobb-Hunter on tobacco tax proposal
Cobb-Hunter says she wants a tobacco tax increase implemented that would keep up with the national average automatically.
Chairman Cooper says Cobb-Hunter is not the only member with tobacco tax legislation in their pocket, but he says he does not see suficient support on the committee to pass it.