SC House passes $14B state budget, sending it over to Senate

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Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2022 at 7:32 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina House of Representatives made quick work of spending nearly $14 billion, officially sending its approved state budget over to the Senate on Tuesday in unusually efficient fashion.

In previous years, House members have worked through long days and nights, sometimes stretching into the weekend, to sign off on the spending plan for the next fiscal year.

But this week, with an unprecedented amount of money in their control thanks to last year’s budget surplus and pandemic relief dollars from the federal government, work that started Monday afternoon was wrapped up by lunchtime Tuesday.

“I think this week, in one day, we proved Biggie Smalls wrong: There’s mo’ money, no problems as it relates to the budget,” Rep. Murrell Smith, R – Sumter and the chair of the House’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, said to his colleagues on the House floor Tuesday.

In the budget, House members approved a 3% raise and one-time bonus for all state employees, along with more raises for state law enforcement and correctional officers.

They also signed off on increasing the starting minimum salary for teachers by $4,000, upping the minimum to $40,000.

“I think teachers are going to be happy this year. We have tried a new education formula to try to ensure that those districts that have the least are going to get the most out of this budget, and those districts that have the most won’t get as much, but they’re already paying teachers what they need to be paid,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D – Richland, said. “We wanted to make sure state employees got a 3% pay increase and a $1,500 bonus, and we did that in this budget.”

The House package includes a $600 million income tax cut, in a plan that would drop the state’s top tax bracket from 7% to 6.5% immediately and then gradually down to 6% in subsequent years and also condense all other tax rates into a 3% bracket.

With the budget now heading to the Senate, for its consideration and changes, senators will likely especially take a look at the tax cut allocations. The Senate has approved its own $2 billion tax cut plan, which would reduce the top two rates from 7% and 6% down to 5.7% and also distribute $1 billion in direct rebates to tax filers.

“The good news is, we’re all on the same page,” Smith said. “We’re all about providing tax relief to the citizens of this state, and that’s the first time in my career of both bodies being on board, as well as the governor, so this is the year that we’re going to get tax relief.”

Additionally, the House-approved budget allocates about $1 billion for road improvements, including interstate expansion, more than $100 million for a new public health lab for DHEC, and $20 million to build a facility for youths with serious mental health needs in the Department of Juvenile Justice system.

It also freezes tuition at South Carolina public colleges and universities for another year.

This week’s passage follows months of meetings, discussions, and requests for money.

But Smith said he was surprised by how quickly the full House debated and agreed on a spending plan this week.

“This is part of a collaboration amongst the body, and we had an open process,” he said. “We had a transparent process and a collaborative process, and I think those are what leads to the success of moving a budget that quickly.”

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