South Carolina will have at least $440 million more than expected to spend in next year's budget, according to the economists who make the state's budget forecasts. The state has taken in more than predicted in taxes because of the improving economy.
While that will give state House and Senate budget writers a lot more to work with, it will still be a fight at the Statehouse over where to spend the money. That's because state agencies say they need $1.2 billion in new money next year.
Some of the "new" money is non-recurring, which means it won't be there every year. Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Columbia, who is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee, says that one-time money will have to go to one-time expenditures like roads and new school buses.
As for the rest of the money, Sen. Courson says, "Education is obviously the most important function of state government. Roughly 53 percent of the total appropriations bill goes to either higher education or K-through-12. We need to put more bucks into that."
He also wants to see some of the new money go to hire a school resource officer in every public school in the state. Right now, only about half the schools have one. "Teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn in a climate of fear, and we've got a problem with that," Sen. Courson says.
Hiring the additional officers would cost between $25 million and $30 million, he says.
A large chunk of the new money is already spoken for, though. State Department of Health and Human Services director Tony Keck says he'll need $162 million in new state dollars next year for Medicaid. Since it's a federal entitlement program, Keck says the state has no choice but to fund it, or cut payments to doctors and hospitals.
State superintendent of education Mick Zais says the state school system needs an additional $101.2 million next year. $34.6 million of that would go to pay the base student cost, which is the amount the state spends for each student. That amount would keep the base student cost the same as it is this year, $2,101 per pupil.
Dr. Zais is also asking for $34 million from the General Reserve Fund to buy new school buses to replace the oldest ones in the fleet. That amount would buy enough buses to replace one-fifteenth of the fleet, which would put the state on a regular cycle of replacing each bus after 15 years.
That $101.2 million includes an additional $50 million for instructional materials.
The state's colleges and universities are also asking for more money.
So is the State Law Enforcement Division, for new computer systems and agents, and the Department of Public Safety, to hire more state troopers.
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