COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Thousands of South Carolinians would get pay raises under the nearly $14 billion state budget the House of Representatives passed Wednesday.
At the start of this legislative session, Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said House leaders wanted to fund people and not programs this year.
After House members gave the bill a third reading Wednesday to send it over to the Senate, Smith told reporters that is what this spending plan would do.
“This is a transformational budget for South Carolina,” Smith said.
Among the highlights of the House-approved budget, public schools collectively would receive $261 million more than they did last year.
The plan would also raise the statewide starting salary for teachers by $2,500, up to $42,500. Minimum pay for each step on the teacher pay schedule — based on a teacher’s experience and education — would also increase $2,500.
Districts already paying above the new minimums could decide if they want to spend their additional money on further raises or elsewhere.
“We strongly encourage them to send that to teacher pay raises,” Smith said.
“I think most of the districts have told us they intend to, but we’ve left that flexibility in place if they wanted to do something different, they would have the ability to do that,” Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville and chair of the House’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, added.
$30 million would be put toward raising pay for state law enforcement officers.
All state employees would receive at least a 3% raise, but it would be larger for those making less than $83,000 a year, who would get a $2,500 pay increase.
“It gives state employees the largest pay increase that they’ve had ever,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said. “I’m saying the largest, y’all, but that does not mean that we don’t still have work to do.”
The budget also includes $450 million for local road and bridge improvements, cuts the state’s top income tax rate, as part of a law passed last year, and provides nearly $70 million to freeze in-state tuition costs at public colleges and universities.
Eleven Republicans, who are members of the ultra-conservative South Carolina Freedom Caucus, voted against the budget.
“The largest budget in state history grew the size and scope of government, and that’s not something I support as a conservative, where we should be shrinking the size and scope of government,” Rep. RJ May, R-Lexington, said.
Senators will take up the budget next month, and then the two chambers will negotiate a compromise to send to the governor after that.
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