State senators have reached an agreement on how to spend an estimated $6.9 billion in General Fund revenue ($24.3 billion in total funds) next year — ending a threatened filibuster by promising to set aside any higher-than-expected tax revenue to pay for road maintenance.
The budget plan that passed 42-3 Thursday would cover the fiscal year that begins July 1. Senators agreed that any surplus funds would be mostly split between a pay bonus for state employees who make less than $100,000 (expected to cost around $23.5 million) and the rest going towards county road paving and maintenance (expected to be between $25-$27 million). A sliver of $4.1 million would go towards those counties hard-hit by the 2014 ice storm.
The budget’s language would require that any surplus revenue after the $27.6 million is set aside for pay raises and ice storm damage go exclusively to county road maintenance.
“We don’t know how much that’ll be, but we’re referring to it as supplemental money,” State Sen. Shane Massey said shortly before Thursday’s vote. The Board of Economic Advisors is expected to release its updated budget forecasts later this month.
The deal ended a stalemate that developed during the budget debate, as Senate conservatives complained leaders were pushing for a gas tax increase without setting aside any new money for roadwork in their proposed budget. Gas hike supporters say any additional road money needs to come from a stable funding source, rather than a one-time budget line.
The Senate spent the better part of three days debating a proposed amendment by State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, that would have offered a salary bonus for all state employees. The bonus would be contingent on the state’s General Fund receiving higher revenue than predicted now. A majority of Republicans said they wanted that money going towards roads, although enough supported Democrats plan that the pay raise likely would have passed had it reached a vote.
But Sheheen said he believed the money would be better spent on the “human capital” of state government. “I could spend $25 million on four miles of road in Kershaw County,” he said earlier this week. “But I’d rather give that to our state employees.”
The plan now goes back to the House. Senators return on Tuesday to take up a proposed $236 million bond that would pay mostly for construction and maintenance work at South Carolina’s colleges and universities.
Other items in the budget proposal include $8.5 million to hire 262 employees at the Department of Social Services. It also provides pay raises of up to 15 percent for DSS employees, matching the budget request the agency’s new director made in March to try to stop turnover in the high-stress jobs. The spending plan has $3.4 million for body cameras for police officers. It also puts about $100 million more into K-12 school, increasing the base student cost to $2,220 per student.
Overall the General Fund budget would increase by $258 million over the current fiscal year. Total spending (including fees, college tuition, and federal money) would increase by roughly $753 million under the Senate plan.