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Senate Approves Budget Agreement

May 23, 2008
Senate Approves Budget Agreement
 $7 billion budget education and healthcare friendly 
 
Columbia, SC -The South Carolina Senate today gave final approval to
the 2008-09 state budget. Senate and House members of a Joint
Legislative Conference Committee have been working on a proposal all
week. The vote to accept the budget compromise that will take effect
beginning July 1, was unanimous in conference committee. The budget will
head to the Governor’s office.
 
The Endowed Chair program; advertising dollars for the Department of
Park, Recreation and Tourism (PRT); and the Child Development Education
Pilot Program (4K) received heavy debate related to funding or policy
differences. Ultimately, the Endowed Chair program received $10 million,
PRT received $10 million for advertising, and $21 million was allocated
for the continuation of the four-year-old kindergarten program. K-12
education is the only functional area that received an overall General
Fund increase, totaling approximately $148 million.
 
“This has obviously been a tough budget year, but I think we have
achieved a responsible budget that addresses the core needs of the
state,” says Senate Finance Chairman Senator Hugh Leatherman
(R-Florence). “This year’s budget is focused on K-12 education and
maintaining healthcare for the indigent care and senior citizens.
Overall I am pleased with the work that we did and the compromise that
was worked out in committee, and as always we look forward to the
Governor’s response” 
 
Although negotiations were amicable throughout, the Senate did take a
firm position on eliminating special projects and preventing the
bobtailing of any permanent legislation onto the budget. Critics of this
year’s budget have claimed the item for school bus operations does not
include enough money to keep buses running for the entire school year. 
Senator Leatherman says the budget provides for operational needs. “In
addition to the $3.8 million included in the budget for operations, we
have given the Department of Education the flexibility to prioritize
resources and use them in the areas of greatest need. So, they should
have no problem covering operational costs for school buses.”  
 
Items that made it through the budget process: 
·         Education Finance Act - fully funded ($94 million)
·         School bus purchases ($10.6 million) 
·         One-percent pay raise for state employees, 
·         State scholarships and grants, including Life, Hope and
Palmetto Fellows ($300 million)
·         Teacher salaries funded at $300 above Southeastern average
·         Autism program ($4.5 million)
 
“This is a lean budget, but I think the people of South Carolina will
appreciate the Senate’s position on no special projects,” says
Senate Finance Committee Vice-Chairman Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee). “In
these tough economic times hard decisions must be made, just like those
being made everyday in homes throughout the state. I am happy to say
that this is a very education-friendly budget.” 
 
On Monday, April 7, the Board of Economic Advisors reduced revenue
estimates by $90 million for the current fiscal year and $90 million the
fiscal year beginning July 1. Although the Senate Finance Committee had
completed its work on the 2008-2009 General Appropriations Bill on
Thursday, April 3, prior to the BEA’s announcement, it reconvened the
following Tuesday, April 8, in an emergency meeting to cut $180 million
from the House version of the budget. In anticipation of the BEA’s
announcing a significant reduction in expected revenue, the Senate
Finance Committee removed all special projects from the budget, some of
which had long been long been included in the budget. 
 
In addition to the Senate Finance Chairman and Vice-Chairman, members
of the budget conference committee included: Senate Minority Leader John
Land (D-Clarendon), House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper
(R-Anderson), House Majority Leader Jim Merrill (R-Berkeley), and
Representative Joseph Neal (D-Richland).
 
 
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