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'Bursting with cash': South Carolina state budget grows

Lawmakers are finalizing South Carolina's spending plan and found they have an extra $1.3 billion to allocate.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina has more money than ever before and state lawmakers say they're being cautious when deciding how to spend it. 

The legislature is in the final stages of approving this year’s state budget. Leaders from the House and Senate met Tuesday in a conference committee to begin finalizing the state spending plan for the fiscal year which begins on July 1st. 

It’s the largest state budget South Carolina has ever seen, according to lawmakers, now they must compromise on how to spend it. 

As Senator Harvey Peeler put it, "our State House is bursting with cash." 

The two chambers must meet in the middle after passing their own versions of the $14 billion budget. The plans differ on many things, like how to bring tax relief to South Carolinians, and how to give raises to teachers.

Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Gary Simrill, said the House plan puts, "$1 billion in tax cuts in the budget, $1 billion saved in reserves, [and] $1 billion dollars to repair roads."

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News19 asked House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford what he plans to prioritize in the budget compromise. He said, "we’ve got to make sure state employees get a bonus. We’ve got to make sure that teachers get raises -- I mean that we raise their pay."

Now, lawmakers have found out they’re working with even more money than originally predicted. Frank Rainwater, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, told the committee, “you have an additional almost $1.3 billion more than you had when your bodies were working on the budget.”

Rainwater added that South Carolina has never seen this type of growth before. Rutherford explained to News19 that the extra revenue comes from taxes and staying conservative in previous years. “We didn’t shut down like other states did during the pandemic, so our tax revenues continue to come in, our business income taxes come in,” added Rutherford.

Despite the surplus, House Speaker Murrell Smith wants to be cautious in case the economy slows. He pointed to 2008 when South Carolina had a large budget, but lawmakers had to make cuts that same year due to the recession. "I don't think any of us want to experience that again," said Smith.

Rutherford agreed, “while times are good right now, while we’ve got $1.3 billion in new money, we need to make sure that if there’s a downturn coming, because of macroeconomic factors not because of anything South Carolina is doing, that we’re prepared for that downturn.”

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Lawmakers plan to be conservative by saving money in the state's reserve fund. How much they plan to put away is up for debate in the committee. The group will return the week of June 6 to continue its work. 

Once the committee finalizes the budget, it will be sent to the governor for signature and go into effect on July 1.

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