Politics & Government

SC budget to include $800 bonus for state employees, money for roads

Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster hits the gavel to open the session of the S.C. senate.
Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster hits the gavel to open the session of the S.C. senate. tglantz@thestate.com

S.C. employees who make less than $100,000 a year will receive a one-time $800 bonus, once the state’s $7 billion state budget takes effect, likely July 1.

The six-member S.C. budget conference committee met near 3:30 a.m. Sunday to decide state spending after meeting behind-the-scenes for at least 15 hours Saturday to finalize negotiations. The S.C. House and Senate will likely return Tuesday to agree with the report and send the budget to the governor for vetoes.

The employee bonus had been previously locked in by the House and Senate through a surplus spending proposal, but was formalized with the rest of the budget Sunday morning.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said the bonus was to offset the years during the Great Recession when state employees did not receive any additional compensation. The state is also paying for health insurance increases for state employees.

The conference committee also approved sending $216.4 million to the state’s 46 counties for road repairs.

There is also another $50 million sent to roads, but that money is frozen until lawmakers pass legislation that authorizes it to be bonded to receive a roughly $500 million return. That authorization was in the House bill to increase the gas tax that died in the Senate at the end of the session.

“The Legislature acted responsibly in allocating new funds to roads, but failed in not having a comprehensive road plan that contained funding and reform (and) was both reliable and sustainable,” said state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, who sponsored the House road bill. “While $216 million is good, $500 million was left on the table by not passing a roads bill.”

The budget will also include $70 million in state cash to pay for incentives — including an Interstate 26 interchange — for Volvo. The company is expected to bring 2,000 jobs and have an initial $500 million investment to a Berkeley County site.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has advocated for borrowing $123 million to pay for incentives, but critics have said that borrowing plan will unnecessarily cost $87 million in interest.

The committee also OK’d sending roughly $9 million to Social Services, including money to hire 262 new Social Services employees. The embattled agency came under fire for not doing enough to prevent child deaths last year.

Lawmakers have also OK’d $94 million to increase the amount schools receive for each student will by $100 to $2,220. Still, that is far less than state law says schools should get.

The committee rejected spending additional money for public defenders and also rejected hiring more than 100 new state prosecutors, as the Senate had proposed, and will instead hire none.

“We would have liked to have seen public defenders and prosecutors funded,” Setzler said, adding the House did not want to fund one without the other.

The new prosecutors would have helped with high caseloads that S.C. prosecutors have, said 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.

“South Carolina lawmakers had an opportunity to help crime victims make South Carolina a safer place to live by giving prosecutors the resources they need but currently lack,” Stone said. “As a result, crime victims will continue to see long delays in their cases going to court, as cases get old they will continue to get more difficult to prove and criminals will continue to get out on bond and commit more crime.”

The head of the state agency for prosecutors, David Ross, said the agency will make the request for new prosecutors again next year.

Once lawmakers pass a budget this week, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has five days, excluding Sunday, to veto their spending proposals.

“Thankfully we should be able to avoid operating off of a continuing resolution, which would signal a legislative inability to fulfill our obligation to the people of South Carolina,” said S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas in a statement Sunday, adding, “I look forward to sending a responsible budget to Governor Haley for signature later this week.”

Legislators then could return to Columbia to overturn or sustain those vetoes.

It takes a two-thirds vote of House and Senate members, present and voting, to override a veto. Voting starts in the House. If the House does not override a veto, then it is sustained without ever going to the Senate.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

S.C. budget winners

The S.C. budget conference committee met at 3:30 a.m. Sunday and approved sending state taxpayer money to:

Roads: Lawmakers approved sending $216.4 million to S.C. counties to pay for road repairs. The focus on using state surplus money on roads came after lawmakers failed to pass a plan to increase the state’s gas tax to pay for repairs.

Employee bonus: State employees who make less than $100,000 will get a one-time $800 bonus.

Volvo incentives: Lawmakers OK’d $70 million in cash for incentives for Volvo, including an Interstate 26 interchange.

Social Services: The committee approved sending roughly $9 million to Social Services including money to hire 262 new Social Services employees. The embattled agency came under fire for not doing enough to prevent child deaths last year.

MUSC Children’s Hospital: The Medical University of South Carolina got $25 million to go toward the cost of building a new children’s hospital.

Trident Technical College: The Lowcountry school will get $20 million for an aerospace training center.

University of South Carolina Columbia campus: The school got $3.5 million for renovations to the Main Street law school building and $5 million for repairs to the South Caroliniana Library on the Horseshoe.