A joint panel of House and Senate members has reached a deal on the state’s proposed budget for the fiscal year which begins next month, ending weeks of backroom meetings.
The three House and three Senate members of the conference committee signed off on the $8 billion General Fund ($27 billion overall) spending plan. It must now be considered by each chamber before it’s sent to Gov. Henry McMaster for his approvals and vetoes. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Members of the committee had met for weeks as they tried to hammer out a deal outside the spotlight of public meetings. A deal was announced around 10 p.m. Wednesday.
The plan includes $150 million to cover the first stage of a major pension payment increase. Earlier this year, legislators and Gov. Henry McMaster approved a plan which tries to stabilize the flailing retirement fund partly by an eventual 64 percent increase in the amount the state pays into it. The final plan also includes $68 million to help communities recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew last year.
K-12 education will receive an additional $60 million in the plan, increasing the per-pupil funding by roughly $75 to $2,425. It also sets aside $29 million to buy nearly 300 new school buses and lease 116 more to replace vehicles in the current fleet that are more than 20 years old.
Higher education institutions also received a slight increase. However, legislators proposed stripping the Commission on Higher Education of its authority over some university construction projects. The move comes after the commission refused to sign off on plans to expand Coastal Carolina University’s football stadium, the University of South Carolina’s football operations facility and a Clemson tennis center because commissioners believed each school was relying too much on borrowing without sufficient donor support.
The plan would not offer raises to state employees, with the exception of South Carolina’s Department of Corrections. Legislators on the panel agreed to increase the salary of corrections officers at state prisons by $1,000 next year. The raises are an effort to reduce high turnover and low morale at the state prisons agency.
Both chambers must pass the budget plan before new fiscal year begins July 1.