A few SC senators regret $1B tax rebate as$12B budget passes
Some Republicans in the South Carolina Senate had a little remorse over taking $1 billion out of the state budget to give income taxpayers rebates.
The senators took control of the chamber's $12.6 billion budget debate for several hours Wednesday, unsuccessfully pushing to have that money spent instead on road improvements, building rural schools, providing a $1,500 bonus to teachers, a COVID-19 bonus to state employees or other options.
But other Republicans and some Democrats stood firm on the Senate plan, which along with $1 billion in rebates also provides a $1 billion income tax that remained untouched in the opposition's proposals. The Senate unanimously passed the tax cut plan last month.
"The rebate is a mistake. It's put us in a box," said Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, a Republican from Murrells Inlet.
The Senate gave preliminary approval to the budget Wednesday night, agreeing to delay a roll call for each senator to individually to vote to Thursday.
The South Carolina House passed its own tax cut but no rebate in its nearly $14 billion spending plan for next fiscal year. Goldfinch said that if the House insists on no rebate, then the Senate could lose negotiations with the House, allowing that chamber to decide how to spend the $1 billion, or the state could go without a new budget, leaving the spending plan at last year's levels.
"Y'all get nothing. Your districts get nothing. Your projects get nothing. Your roads get nothing," Goldfinch said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler in his first year handling the Senate's money committee announced his tax cut plan in February just days after the governor and House held a news conference to announce their proposal. The Gaffney Republican said "you can't out tax cut Harvey Peeler."
Most of Peeler's fellow Republicans stuck with the budget as written. They didn't talk much Wednesday, but votes to change the budget struggled to get more than six votes in the 46-member chamber.
"Unanimously we voted for that rebate in there because we realized, I think rightfully so, the money belongs to the people of this state," said Sen. Josh Kimbrell, a Republican from Spartanburg.
Goldfinch said he and other senators now opposed to the rebate got swept up. "I should have done more research, I should have known what was going to happen when our budget goes over to the House," he said.
The Senate's budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year has several big differences with the House plan. It spends significantly less on roads and removes a $1,500 one-time bonus for state employees.
The Senate also only guarantees to raise the minimum pay for new teachers to $38,000, while the House sets the new minimum at $40,000.
The Senate expects the budget debate to last until at least Thursday. The first day of the debate Tuesday was spent mostly on social issues, passing provisions requiring county libraries to certify that they do not offer "materials that appeal to the prurient interest" to children under 13 and preventing teaching on sexual orientation or gender identity to students from kindergarten to third grade.