The South Carolina General Assembly has passed a compromise on how to spend $6.7 billion in state taxes and nearly $15 billion in federal and other funds.
The Senate voted 39-5 in favor of the budget, which would take effect in July. But the plan squeaked by the House with a 54-52 vote Wednesday. Only 2 House Democrats (Reps. Howard and Stavrinakis) voted in favor of the spending plan, while 14 House Republicans opposed it.
On the Senate side, Democrats were more favorable. The opposition came from four Republicans (Sens. Bright, Corbin, Shane Martin, and Thurmond) who joined with Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville) to vote against the final budget.
House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) said there were a lot of sections included that gave his members heartburn. “We have done things in this budget that we don’t normally do in budgets,” he said moments after the vote.
House Democrats were upset about tax credits for private school tuition for disabled students and no cost-of-living increase for state employees.
State Rep. Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews) criticized the special tax credits for companies or individuals that donate money to help disabled students go to a private school. Ott said he thinks that will eventually lead to vouchers for all private school students.
“Don’t go home and say we just helped the handicapped children,” Ott said from the floor before the vote. “That is not the intent and you all know it. The intent is to get the camel’s nose in the tent, and then the whole camel.”
Democrats were also unhappy that Republicans refused to expand Medicaid eligibility to include millions more South Carolinians.
Meanwhile, some Republicans were reluctant to support borrowing $500 million for road repairs. Others were concerned about the uncertainty in how much the state would end up paying to protect those South Carolinians whose identities were compromised in the state Department of Revenue hack last fall.
Rep. Gary Simrill (R-Rock Hill) said he did not expect everyone to be happy. “If we had to make sure that 170 people in this General Assembly and (the governor) were totally satisfied with every aspect of the budget we did, we would never, ever have a budget.”
The budget now goes to Gov. Nikki Haley, who has five days to make any vetoes.
Some of the budget’s highlights:
—$141 million for immediate highway repairs (part of which will be used as leverage to borrow $500 million)
— $26 million to expand full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten in more school districts, along with an additional $23 million for textbooks and other instructional materials
— allows for the creation of special charities which award scholarships to students with intellectual and physical disabilities. Donors can claim a tax credit for no more than 60 percent of their state tax liability.