COLUMBIA, S.C. —South Carolina lawmakers had planned to vote on the state budget this week, but ended up not meeting after all because the budget still isn’t finished. Three senators and three House members that make up a conference committee are still working on a final plan.
One of the hold-ups is the state pension plan. Lawmakers earlier passed a separate law to shore up the pension, which has an unfunded liability of at least $24 billion. That law requires the state to put more money into the system and also increases how much employees have to pay in. But as part of the budget, House and Senate negotiators haven’t agreed on exactly how the state is going to pay its share.
Another sticking point is higher education, with the House and Senate differing on whether to spend more on community and technical colleges or increase needs-based scholarships at state universities.
They also differ on how much to spend on new school buses. The House had proposed $30.1 million while the Senate’s version would put just over $17 million in the budget for buses. However, state education superintendent Molly Spearman says she needs $73 million to replace all of the 1995 and ’96 buses, one of which caught fire earlier this month in Duncan. There were 56 students on board at the time but the driver was able to get them all off safely.
Spearman says, “I’m really reminding those members of the conference committee how important this issue is. It’s a safety issue and that should be at the top of their priorities.”
Even though the budget is not finished yet, that’s not unusual for this time of year. This was the first year of the new shorter legislative session, with the regular session ending on the second Thursday in May instead of the first Thursday in June. In previous years, the state budget wasn’t usually finished until the first week of June. And the Senate passed a continuing resolution, so just in case they don’t adopt a final budget before the new fiscal year starts July 1, the state can keep running using the current budget.
As of now, the House is planning to go back to the Statehouse June 6th to vote on the budget, assuming the conference committee has finished a final version.