COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A day after the House of Representatives passed a massive education reform bill, they are on to another major task.
A $29.95 billion dollar budget debate.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Representative Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) went over the proposals Thursday morning with some House members and the rest of the Ways and Means Committee.
There are a lot of different topics addressed in this proposed budget, but Rep. Smith said there are four major themes to it. Those include: Attracting and retaining teachers, funding higher education and freezing tuition, protecting taxpayers and keeping debt low, and funding core functions of government.
Some of the highlights in their proposed budget include increases to teacher salaries, freezing tuition costs, improvements to correctional facilities and a rebate for all South Carolina taxpayers.
The budget sets aside $159 million dollars to raise the starting teacher salary from 32,000 to 35,000 in South Carolina. This proposed budget also gives teachers a 4 percent raise across the board.
Advocates and teachers have been pushing for a 10% raise or more. Rep. Smith said, “We wish we could do more. We certainly intend next year to continue the funding. The goal of the Speaker and the committee is to raise teacher pay to the Southeast Average and then to the national average.”
Teachers aren’t the only ones getting a pay bump in this proposed budget.
State employees are getting a 2 percent raise. Some employees at the Department of Juvenile Justice are having their salaries increased as well.
The budget sets aside $11 million for a pay increase for judges in South Carolina.
When it comes to higher education, lawmakers plan on using $44 million to freeze in-state tuition costs.
Rep. Smith said, “This is the first step we can try to get tuition under control. And try to make sure kids come out of college without having a substantial amount of debt as they start their careers.”
House Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) said for the most part he’s pleased with the plan. However, he wouldn’t mind seeing some changes.
Instead of using a part of the $61 million dollars in income taxes from the lottery winner as a one-time $50 rebate for taxpayers, Rutherford would like to see that money be put somewhere else.
Rep. Rutherford said, “I would like to see teachers get a better raise and state employees get better raises.”
He said if the state had more alternative revenue sources like casinos and medical marijuana, more money could be used to address critical needs in the state. “We have to deal with what we have in front of us. Right now, DSS needs more money and the Department of Corrections needs more money and when I say more money, I mean hundreds of millions of dollars,” Rutherford said.
The budget will be up for debate on Monday. Lawmakers will have the weekend to come up with amendments to the bills.
Rep Smith said, “There are 124 members and everyone has an equal voice with the budget. We will try to collaborate and work together and do what’ in the best interest of South Carolina.”
If you’d like to read more on the budget proposals, click here.