Charleston Harbor supporters want it to compete with the port in Savannah, GA (pictured).
COLUMBIA (AP) -- The South Carolina House on Wednesday updated its budget plan to fully fund a tax break for small businesses and designate the full $300 million needed to deepen the Charleston Harbor.
House members voted 61-46 to amend what the Senate approved two weeks ago and return it to that chamber. The move sets up negotiations for a compromise between the two chambers' spending plans, to be worked out over the next couple of weeks.
The House first passed its budget in March. That was before economic advisers revised revenue projections for this fiscal year and the one starting July 1, giving the Senate $292 million more to allocate.
Lawmakers put their own spin on using that money.
"This is a solid, fiscally conservative, balanced spending plan that limits government growth while responsibly planning for our state's economic future," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
The amendment uses $65 million to immediately reduce the income tax rate that small business owners pay on their profits from 5 percent to 3 percent. The Senate phased that in over four years, reducing revenue in the fiscal year starting July 1 by $15 million.
The latest plan adds $120 million toward the port dredging project, to cover the federal government's share if necessary. Both the House and Senate plans already cover the state's $180 million portion of dredging the harbor to 50 feet to accommodate mega-size ships - a project called essential to the state's economy.
But the feasibility study alone isn't set for completion until late 2014 at the earliest. Democrats noted there's no way that money would be spent on the ports in the next fiscal year. They wanted to give more to local governments. The Senate plan provides an additional $40 million, which is still less than what's called for in state law, while the House amendment would give $10 million.
"Out of $300 million, we can only find $10 million to give to local government?" asked House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews. "If you don't fund local government, you're voting for a tax increase or cut in local service for your constituents."