SC House OKs $9B plan; teacher pay hike in­cluded

The Sun News - - Front Page - BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER [email protected]­tate.com

Abor­tions. Bloated class­room sizes. A pro­posal to make the state’s only his­tor­i­cally black tech­ni­cal col­lege a trade school.

Those were the is­sues that stirred the most con­tro­versy in the S.C. House on Tues­day, as the cham­ber’s 124 mem­bers de­bated through the night how to spend roughly $9.3 bil­lion in state money. The state’s bud­get takes ef­fect every year on July 1.

The House voted 100-2 Wed­nes­day to adopt the bud­get, cap­ping an of­ten con­tentious de­bate that lasted roughly 13 hours.

The bud­get now heads to the Se­nate, where all 46 mem­bers have their own ideas on how to spend the state’s money.

Here is what the House voted Wed­nes­day to in­clude in South Carolina’s spend­ing plan:

SC TEACH­ERS, SCHOOLS TO GET A BOOST

South Carolina law­mak­ers say 2019 is the year to solve the state’s pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion woes, an is­sue that has dom­i­nated the State House since Jan­uary, when House Speaker Jay Lu­cas, RDar­ling­ton, in­tro­duced an 84-page bill seek­ing, in part, to over­haul fail­ing schools.

The House passed the mas­sive pro­posal last week, but its fu­ture re­mains un­cer­tain in the Se­nate, where at least one Demo­cratic law­maker has told The State the bill falls short of mean­ing­ful re­form and that he will work to block it.

The House bud­get also spends:

● $159 mil­lion — to raise the min­i­mum teacher pay to $35,000 and give teach­ers at min­i­mum a 4-per­cent pay raise

● $50 mil­lion — for high­poverty school dis­tricts to use for build­ing ren­o­va­tions and up­grades

● $20 mil­lion — to bring dis­tricts’ in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als up to date

● $14.8 mil­lion — to cover grow­ing en­roll­ment at the state’s pub­licly-funded char­ter schools

● $10 mil­lion — to hire 120 more school-re­source of­fi­cers for schools that don’t al­ready have an SRO and can’t af­ford to hire them

How­ever, much to many law­mak­ers’ dis­ap­proval, the House did not adopt a sin­gle amend­ment seek­ing to re­duce class sizes, a top re­quest among South Carolina teach­ers push­ing for changes to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

STATE EM­PLOY­EES SLATED TO GET A RAISE

The state’s 32,000 em­ploy­ees — two-thirds of whom earn less than $41,000 — have not all re­ceived a raise in more than two years.

“I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t think that’s ac­cept­able in the 21st cen­tury,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orange­burg, said Tues­day.

The House bud­get spends about $41 mil­lion to raise em­ployee salaries by 2 per­cent. It also spends:

● $49.7 mil­lion — to cover state em­ployee health and den­tal in­sur­ance in­creases

● $32 mil­lion — to help shore up the state’s un­der­funded pen­sion sys­tem

The House also added a tem­po­rary law that would let re­tired state em­ploy­ees, who are cov­ered by the state’s re­tire­ment sys­tem, come back to work without fac­ing an ex­ist­ing

$10,000 salary cap, as long as they’ve been re­tired for a year.

Cobb-Hunter said the changes are not enough to keep the state’s un­der­paid work­ers on the job or even re­cruit. In­stead, she pro­posed spend­ing $23.2 mil­lion to give state work­ers who earn less than $50,000 a year an­other 2 per­cent pay raise.

Cobb-Hunter’s ef­fort failed Tues­day in a 76-37 vote.

“While I sup­port all state em­ploy­ees ... my heart and my pas­sion is for the lit­tle guy and girl who make up three-quar­ters of our state em­ployee work­force,” Cobb-Hunter said.

GOP BRINGS ABOR­TION BAT­TLE TO BUD­GET

Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers sought to curb abor­tions in the

state Tues­day night, suc­cess­fully amend­ing the state bud­get in a 84-31 vote to try to block state dol­lars from go­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood to use for abor­tions.

Fur­ther­more, it seeks to pro­hibit the state’s Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment from giv­ing Planned Par­ent­hood fed­eral dol­lars.

While a hot but­ton is­sue for Repub­li­cans, the pro­posal likely would have lit­tle im­pact on the state’s op­er­a­tions.

No tax dol­lars pay for South Carolina abor­tions — out­side of cases of rape, in­cest or the mother’s life is at risk, an ex­cep­tion un­der the fed­eral Hyde Amend­ment. Those abor­tions are rare and most are done in hos­pi­tals, not at Planned Par­ent­hood’s two South Carolina clin­ics.

Planned Par­ent­hood also gets very lit­tle tax money to be­gin with — less than 1 per­cent of South Carolina Med­i­caid dol­lars.

And a court al­ready has tem­po­rar­ily blocked the state from boot­ing Planned Par­ent­hood from the state’s Med­i­caid net­work.

Each year, law­mak­ers de­bate the bud­get and whether to send tax dol lars to clin­ics that pro­vide fam­ily-plan­ning ser­vices and abor­tions.

PROB­LEMS AT DSS, COR­REC­TIONS

Two agen­cies un­der the gun for years that strug­gle to re­cruit and re­tain work­ers are the state’s So­cial Ser­vices De­part­ment and the state’s Cor­rec­tions De­part­ment. Mean­while, Cor­rec­tions also has strug­gled to fix crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing door locks, that lead­ers have said could mend some se­cu­rity con­cerns at the state’s pris­ons.

For Cor­rec­tions, the bud­get in­cludes spend­ing:

$10 mil­lion, for in­mates’

● Hepati­tis C test­ing and treat­ment

$10 mil­lion, in one­time

● money for crit­i­cal up­grades

$2.3 mil­lion, for an

● elec­tronic health record sys­tem and sup­port for mo­bile data col­lec­tion

For DSS, the bud­get in­cludes spend­ing $28.6 mil­lion in one-time money for the state’s child sup­port sys­tem.

How­ever, bud­get writ­ers re­jected the agency’s re­quest to add $44.5 mil­lion to help hire and re­tain case­work­ers to over­see child-abuse cases after law­mak­ers grew frus­trated and rest­less with DSS as it con­tin­ued to strug­gle to use money it al­ready has re­ceived.

The State file photo

South Carolina teach­ers and state work­ers gather at the State House dur­ing the South Carolini­ans De­serve the Best rally in Jan­uary. The S.C. House gave fi­nal ap­proval to its ver­sion of the state’s $9 bil­lion spend­ing plan, which in­cludes $159 mil­lion to raise teacher salaries by 4 per­cent.

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