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South Carolina House OKs budget plan

A $5.3 billion spending plan that increases spending on public charter schools and cuts education spending elsewhere won final approval in the House Wednesday.

The House, with little debate, approved the budget bill for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and sent it to the Senate.

House Democrats and Republicans quickly left town and are taking next week off as Senate committees continue working on their version of the spending plan.

Senate Minority Leader John Land, a Manning Democrat, said the House spending bill is in better shape than he expected. "The funding per pupil for education was better than I anticipated. ... I hope we'll be able to do more," Land said.

The budget bill cuts $125 million from Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals. That reduction was a central element in closing a $700 million budget gap. Much of the rest was tied to federal bailout cash that Legislators told agencies was gone and wouldn't be available for them to use.

Meanwhile, House budget writers used the state's increased cigarette tax and reserves to patch holes in health care and public school budgets.

Nonetheless, the budget has agency spending reductions spread throughout it. For instance, the state's colleges will have to deal with reductions in their general fund budget of up to 8 percent.

The spending plan streamlines some government operations. For instance, the state's probation agency would merge into the state Corrections Department.

Corrections Department director Bill Byars said it "will save money initially just by merging functions together."

Meanwhile, the spending plan merges the state Arts Commission and the State Museum Commission into the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Gov. Nikki Haley had wins and losses in the budget. The House went along with plans to stop paying $1 million for lobbyists. But they balked at plans to end taxpayer funding for the 2012 presidential primary.

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