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SC governor's budget seeks pay bumps to shore up workforce

Henry McMaster
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
FILE - Gov. Henry McMaster addresses a South Carolina GOP dinner on July 29, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. McMaster wants to increase 2022's record amount of capital investment and offset shortages across workforces like education and law enforcement, according to the budget request he released Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants to increase 2022's record amount of capital investment and offset shortages across workforces like education and law enforcement, according to the budget request he released Friday.

The proposal is just a first step. Lawmakers will soon begin writing and approving a spending plan when the General Assembly reconvenes next week. But the Republican expressed confidence Friday that his six years spent cultivating relationships with legislative leaders will lend serious weight to his suggestions.

The lowest state debt in recent memory and a $3.8 billion budget surplus mean South Carolina has a lot of extra money available.

McMaster does not seek to spend it all. The executive budget proposal would allocate $500 million toward what the governor's office said would be the largest rainy day fund balance in state history. The total far exceeds the minimum increase from 5% to 7% of the previous year's revenue as required by a constitutional amendment approved by voters this past fall.

The South Carolina Department of Commerce recently announced a total capital investment of over $10 billion last calendar year — the most in state history. The governor is requesting $200 million to build and acquire more megasites to compete with Southeastern states like Georgia and Tennessee for additional electric vehicle and battery plants.

Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the governor's proposed budget. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said he had not had the chance to review the suggestions.

Education received special attention in this year's request, with nationwide teacher shortages having left students underserved, most acutely in rural areas.

Public school teachers would see a pay increase. The budget proposes a new minimum salary of $42,500. The hike is a step toward McMaster's stated goal of at least a $50,000 minimum salary by the time he leaves office. The recruitment and retention effort comes at a critical time. South Carolina is one of the few states where the number of students is increasing, according to the governor's office.

Teachers would also receive a one-time $2,500 bonus split across payments in December and May of the following school year. The governor's office hopes the bonuses would free up districts to use federal pandemic relief funds for other ends, such as tutoring.

Education isn't the only arena struggling to hire talent. Technical schools would receive $78 million for scholarships to boost the number of nurses and fill other available jobs. And the state also competes with private entities for police officers and government workers.

To attract more police officers, McMaster wants to set aside $21.5 million for pay raises and implement a $2,000 tax credit for publicly employed first responders. Money for resource officers in 188 new schools would mean 91% of South Carolina public schools have an assigned school resource officer, according to the governor's office.

A $3.6 million training center operated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division would be built in a shuttered Lexington County school building. Police and school personnel would receive training year-round on such things as active shooter drills and advanced CPR at the centrally located center.

State agencies that requested the funds would have $78 million to implement pay raises for government employees. Additional money would go toward $2,500 signing bonuses and free OBGYN visits for all women covered by the state health plan.

Many of the highlights are similar to previous proposals. The budget request includes an $87 million income tax cut. The governor's interest in conservation was reflected in $266 million that will fund the identification and preservation of culturally or environmentally significant land jeopardized by development and flooding. For the fourth year in a row, McMaster proposed a college tuition freeze for in-state students.

Population growth has also brought new challenges that McMaster's budget seeks to address. Recent census data ranked South Carolina the third-fastest-growing state. The proposal puts $850 million toward expediting projects like interstate widenings and bridge replacements that the governor's office said need to catch up with the booming population that will use roads.

Other projects include $10 million to replace the state's two propeller-driven aircraft that the governor's office said are approaching the end of their life, at nearly 40 years old.

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James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.