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SC News

3% State Employee Raise; No Vaccine Lottery Yet in SC Budget

South Carolina Statehouse AP File Photo
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
FILE - This Jan. 17, 2021, file photo shows the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina's Legislature is ending its regular session on Thursday, April 13, 2021, ceremonially wrapping up its duties but expecting at least several returns later in the year to handle more work, including how to spend federal funding related to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The state spending plan heading to the South Carolina House floor next week offers state employees a 3% raise and teachers a $1,000 bump in pay.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday approved a nearly $11 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The spending plan includes money the state didn't spend this budget year because lawmakers feared a more serious economic downturn in the COVID-19 pandemic.

One issue the committee decided was best taken up next week by the whole House was a proposal to provide big lottery prizes to people who get a COVID-19 vaccine, based on programs in Ohio and other states.

Only about 34% of South Carolina's population is vaccinated. The state is well below the 41% rate nationwide and in the bottom ten in the country.

“People in South Carolina love the lottery. We've got to get people vaccinated. We’ve got to reach the younger population. We’ve got to reach those people that currently have some hesitancy. The thought of winning a million dollars could overcome that hesitancy,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said.

The Columbia Democrat suggested setting aside $2 million for an outreach program and prizes. But after Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith said the proposal was confusing as written, Rutherford offered to wait and put the amendment up during next week's full General Assembly special session.

The House is amending the Senate's version of the budget.

The Senate plan included constructing veteran nursing homes as well as dozens of local projects like boat ramps, parks, festivals and repairs to a lighthouse.

Typically, House members make a few changes here and there to the Senate's plan. But this year lawmakers started off much more cautious because they worried about greater economic difficulties from COVID-19.

But the taxes and fees collected by the state have exceeded the conservative predictions. South Carolina is approaching $2 billion more than lawmakers had to spend in the previous plan because they didn't spend everything collected in this year's budget.

“When we talk about a lot of revenue, we need to put into perspective that this is two years of a budget,” said Smith, a Republican from Sumter.

The 3% raise for state employees is more than the 2% offered in the proposed Senate plan..

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who has fought for better pay for state employees throughout her nearly 30-year Statehouse career, suggested a 5% raise that was voted down.

Rep. Bruce Bannister said the proposed budget also pays the increase in health insurance premiums for state employees and adds additional money to their retirement plans.

“Really we’re close to a 5% raise with all the benefits we’ve put in the budget," said Bannister, a Republican from Greenville.

Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat from Greenville, said the benefits are nice and appreciated, but don't increase base pay, which is used to calculate retirement benefits.

Other items in the budget heading to the House floor include:

— $440 million for college and universities to repair buildings and encourage them not to raise tuition

— A $1,000 raise for all teachers and to increase the minimum pay for first-year teachers from $35,000 to $36,000

— A nurse in every South Carolina public school

— A police officer in every public school and putting those officers under the supervision of the Department of Public Safety

— Pay increases for nearly every law enforcement officer in the state

— $4 million to prosecutors and public defenders to help get through a backlog in cases after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down courts for months

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.