State Budget Receives Committee Approval

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The House Ways and Means Committee put the finishing touches on the state’s $5.1 billion General Fund budget Thursday afternoon — finding new efficiencies in state government, fully funding Medicaid, and increasing the “base student cost” sent to school districts.

“There were few good choices this year, but this balanced budget reflects the base conservative value that it is better to cut the size of government than to raise taxes — especially during these economic times,” said House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham. “My colleagues on the committee have worked hard for the last several weeks crafting a budget that prioritizes our true state priorities.”

The increase in base student cost came, in part, by cutting the size of the Department of Education and funneling money directly to the classroom. In addition to a 10.5 percent increase in base student cost, the House budget writers also saved taxpayer money by combining many agencies. The Department of Corrections was combined with the Probation, Pardons, and Parole; the Arts Commission and the State Museum were moved to the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism; and Consumer Affairs was given to the Secretary of State. Associated legislation ordering these consolidations is in the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee also deleted all general funds for ETV. ETV will now operate on a market-based approach. And reductions to Higher Education are targeted to reward institutions with favorable graduation rates and higher in-state enrollment.

“I commend the members of the committee for writing the best possible budget document during difficult times,” said Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper. “We have worked hard to cut the size of government and not put any additional tax burden on the taxpayers when they can least afford it.”

The proposed budget also includes an additional $10 million to assist the Department of Commerce to recruit new business to South Carolina and $13 million in new job training for our state’s technical colleges.

The budget also cuts 4,696 state government jobs that are vacant or have not been filled within the 12 months. Since voters gave the House Republicans control of the state House in 1994, the GOP has slashed the size of government by nearly 22 percent — as measure by the number of state employees.

The budget approved Thursday also includes $9.3 billion in Federal funds (93 percent of which goes directly to schools, colleges, or Medicaid) and $7.4 billion in “Other” funds (63 percent of which is paid by parents as tuition to state colleges or paid into health care).

The budget is scheduled to be on the House floor for debate on Monday, March 14th.

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PAID FOR BY GARY SIMRILL FOR HOUSE