A nearly $6 billion General Fund budget is headed for Governor Nikki Haley’s desk after it was approved by both the House and Senate.
The budget narrowly passed in the House, where Democrats upset with Medicaid cuts voted with a dozen Republicans unhappy over $22.5 billion in overall spending. The House margin was a 57-54 vote, but the Senate was 24-17, where all but 3 of the “no” votes were Republicans. In fact, had 13 Senate Democrats not voted in favor of the budget, it would not have passed.
House leaders were upset about the close margin. House Speaker Bobby Harrell rarely gets involved in floor debates, but after several members questioned why the overall budget was increasing by more than $700 million, he felt the need to speak out.
When somebody says it’s a $22 billion dollar budget, I think the body needs to understand you’ve $8 billion in federal money you don’t control and you’ve got college tuition included in those numbers.
Haley can now approve or veto each section of the budget depending on whether or not she supports it.
The budget is highlighted by a $146 million for those businesses that will see their unemployment insurance payments rise under a new tiered system. Those businesses were slated to see increases because they laid off the most workers over the past two years. The Department of Employment and Workforce says the higher rate is necessary to pay off nearly a billion dollars in loans from the federal government.
It also includes an additional $56 million for education. Both the UI tax relief and the educational money was available due to a higher-than-expected return in tax revenue this year.
There was also some disagreement over how to best fund ETV. The final version of the budget would require agencies to pay the network for any services they use, rather than giving ETV a direct line in the budget.
Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) said the move was to avoid a veto by the governor.
I think the majority of the Senate felt like, if we put it on a line, it would be vetoed. I think (we) felt like the House would not override that veto, ultimately shutting down ETV. We were not willing to take that chance.
However, Sen. Vince Sheheen (D-Kershaw) called the move “voodoo budgeting.”
I want to see ETV funded, but I want to see it funded in a transparent and… honest manner. I’m disappointed in the leaders of the House that they would not want to stand strong for the things they’re budgeting.
Many GOP Senators had wanted to include a budget proviso that would forbid the state’s top financial oversight board from recognizing agency deficits. They were upset the proviso was not included in the finished bill. However, House leaders such as Rep. Dan Cooper (R-Anderson) warned such a proviso would not account for any emergency spending that would result if the state was rocked by a natural disaster.
The budget also locks Medicaid cuts into place. It includes more than $125 million in provider cuts, as well as estimated savings from the Department of Health and Human Services’s cuts earlier this year.