The South Carolina House passed a $23.3 billion budget Wednesday with a unanimous 115-0 vote. The FY 2013 budget includes a two percent raise for state employees, $600 million in tax relief, and $180 million for the Charleston harbor deepening.
The overall package includes roughly $6 billion in General Fund expenditures. It also features $549 million in property tax relief through the “residential exemption” and $77 million towards businesses meant to help stave off increases those businesses’ unemployment insurance premiums.
Lawmakers on both sides credited House Ways & Means Chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) for the relative ease of the budget’s passage. Both Democrats and Republicans said they got a reasonable amount of what they wanted. White, who is in his first year as the budget chairman, said he was “humbled” by the vote.
“This is the people’s budget and the people in this chamber should have equal amount of say-so in trying to write this budget,” White said, “That’s what we set out to do.”
Republicans touted an increase of the “base student cost” funding to $2,012 per student in 2012. That increase is meant to give teachers their first pay raise in four years. The budget also sets aside $180 million in a reserve fund for the purpose of dredging the Port of Charleston. That money would cover the state’s portion of a cost-share agreement if the Army Corps of Engineers were to recommend the harbor’s deepening.
“We funded the priorities that our constituents told us they wanted, and we funded the priorities that will improve the economy, education, and our state’s fiscal position,” House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce) said in a statement.
Democrats said they were satisfied with a two percent raise for all state employees and an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program to cover an additional 70,000 children that are currently eligible, but are not enrolled to receive benefits.
“I didn’t win every battle that we fought,” House Minority Leader Harry Ott said, “But at the end of the day, Chairman White, the staff, (and) all the subcommittee chairmen probably have had a more open discussion than I’ve seen in quite some time.”
It’s the first time the chamber has passed a budget unanimously since 2005, according to House leaders.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) also voted in favor of the budget, although she said she had some problems with it. Specifically, Cobb-Hunter said she was concerned that the Local Government Fund did not increase this year after four years of cutbacks.
“I thought it important that, this year when there were surplus dollars available, we do something to make up for those four years,” she said.
The House set aside more than $900 million in additional General Fund revenue for the FY 2013 budget than they did last year. The $23.3 billion in total funds is a $1.2 billion increase over last year, but that includes federal and other funds the Legislature does not directly control.
The budget needs one more routine vote Thursday before it heads to the Senate.