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SC Senate's $12.6B budget gives workers raises, no bonuses


South Carolina's budget will likely face intense negotiations in the Legislature after Senate budget writers advanced a $12.6 billion plan based on $2 billion in income tax cuts and rebates.

Lawmakers in the Senate Finance Committee adopted the spending plan unanimously Wednesday, The Post and Courier reported.

The Senate's budget package is built around $1 billion in income tax rebates and another $1 billion in cuts, compared with the $600 income million tax cut proposed by the House.

Like the House's version, the Senate plan would give state employees a 3% cost-of-living raise. But the House plan contains a one-time, $1,500 bonus not included by senators.

"We're putting all citizens and taxpayers first with the tax reduction," said Senate President Thomas Alexander, who noted that public employees would also benefit. "It's a different approach."

Although the House plan would increase minimum pay for teachers by $4,000, to a floor of $40,000, the Senate version would raise that minimum by only $2,000. Under the Senate plan, first-year teachers would make at least $38,000.

Both the Senate and House versions would send $227 million in extra aid to school districts, though the Senate plan would give districts more flexibility in how the money is spent and allocate those dollars through a formula Gov. Henry McMaster has promoted as being a simplification of the state's current, confusing funding system.

A spokesman for McMaster's office criticized the Senate's plan for not raising teacher minimum salaries high enough.

"Our system is broken. The Senate's plan is a half-measure and doesn't get to the root of the problem," spokesman Brian Symmes told the newspaper. "The governor and House don't think any teacher in South Carolina should be paid less than $40,000 a year, and in the Senate plan, that's not going to happen."

The Palmetto State Teachers Association, the state's largest advocacy group for teachers, said the Senate plan could provide districts with too much flexibility, leading to wider salary discrepancies between affluent and poor districts and the chance that less money gets spent inside classrooms.

"I support the concept of flexibility in the abstract. Districts do need the ability to target money to the needs of their students," association spokesman Patrick Kelly said. "But I think a statewide minimum of $40,000 in 2022 should be nonnegotiable."

A small group of lawmakers from both chambers will likely negotiate the differences between the budget plans and suggested tax cuts later this spring.