COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster rolled out his Executive Budget plan for the 2021-2022 fiscal year Friday afternoon.

“By being careful and conservative, freezing new spending and holding state government steady at last year’s spending levels, we have been able to avoid cutting services, raising taxes, or borrowing money,” Governor McMaster wrote in a letter to the General Assembly.

Small Business Grant Program

The state has directed over $40 million in CARES Act funds to provide relief to 2,284 small businesses. However, the requests for relief and assistance from small businesses exceeded the available CARES Act funds.

Full Expansion of Full-Day 4k programs

McMaster proposes investing $48 million to expand access to full-day kindergarten for every lower income four-year old child in the state. This expansion will allow parents to choose the public, private or for-profit childcare provider that best suits their child’s educational needs.

State Aid to Classrooms

In last year’s state budget, McMaster proposed a $3,000 across the board pay raise for every public school teacher in the state, a raise that would have catapulted the Palmetto State into a ‘top 25’ ranking of states for average teacher pay – for the first time ever. COVID-19 has delayed that raise.

“In the meantime, I am proposing an appropriation of $35 million to maintain the state’s financial commitment to funding our classrooms.  According to the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs office, these funds, along with this executive budget’s lifting of the current suspension of teacher step salary increases, will allow school districts to resume all scheduled step salary increases for their teachers.

School districts in SC have received over $1.2 billion in COVID-19 relief from the federal government. This, in addition to the ones being made with state funds, have provided every school district with the resources necessary to operate full-time, and teach in-person, five days a week. 

School Resource Officers, School Nurses, Mental Health Counselors

The executive budget provides funding to place a certified law enforcement school resource officer in every school, in ever county, all day every day.

It also provides funding for a school nurse in every school and provides every school with access to a mental health counselor.

Commitment to Public Charter Schools

Public charter schools in SC have seen an unprecedented 25% increase in 2020 student enrollment, according to the governor’s office. “This is largely a consequence of working parents’ strong desire for five-day, in-person classroom instruction for their children.  The virtual instruction adopted by numerous public school districts was not deemed adequate.  I believe the best policies provide that state dollars follow the student to the school of their parents’ choice.” The budget sends $25 million to follow the students to their new schools.”

Access to Higher Education

The executive budget provides $60 million so that every South Carolinian who qualifies for federal needs-based financial aid – as measured by federal Pell Grants – has additional state financial assistance to attend any in-state public college, university or technical college.  Students at private, independent and historically black colleges and universities will receive an additional $20 million for tuition grants and assistance.

Workforce Training and Development

This budget provides an additional $60 million for high-demand jobs skills training.  This includes such programs as our ReadySC direct training for prospective manufacturers locating in SC and for workforce scholarships and grants for South Carolinians to receive skills-based certificates and accreditation at our state’s technical colleges.

Broadband Expansion

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that access to broadband connectivity is a necessity and priority for our state, for health care access, education delivery, and remote access to the workplace, the governor said. “This executive budget dedicates $30 million for the Office of Regulatory Staff to continue its critical efforts to expand broadband in South Carolina through public and private match investments.”

Commitment to Law Enforcement

This budget dedicates over $13 million in new dollars to law enforcement, public safety and first response agencies for recruitment and retention. This includes pay raises for troopers, state law enforcement division agents, wildlife officers, probation agents and corrections officers.

No State Income Taxes on Retirement Pay for Military and First Responders

“In addition, I once again call on the General Assembly to eliminate all state income taxes on the retirement pay of career military veterans and first responders, as well as retired state and federal law enforcement officers, firefighters and peace officers.  Many states have already done this. The decision-makers at the Department of Defense take note of such actions or lack of them as they weigh decisions on base closures, realignment and new missions for America’s military.  Our state’s military installations are at risk, like all others.  It is past time for the General Assembly to act on this issue,” the governor said in a statement.

Transparency in Budgeting

“Finally, I would once again encourage the General Assembly to end the practice of appropriating to agencies undisclosed “pork barrel” earmarks in the budget that are shielded from public view, debate and scrutiny.  No matter how deserving the project, the practice itself undermines the public’s trust and confidence in their government. The General Assembly’s continuous overriding of vetoes of successive governors, including this one, further exacerbates this distrust.

“There is a better way for the taxpayers.  It is time for such appropriations to be publicly disclosed, debated and allowed to stand or fall based on their own merits. To that end, this budget creates a public competitive grants process.  Funds will only be made available to entities with demonstrated community support and missions which advance the agencies’ underlying objectives.  Further, all applications and awards will be placed online, allowing for public scrutiny and total transparency.”

For a copy of the governor’s executive budget, along with his letter to the General Assembly and a detailed explanation of each allocation, click here. For a copy of a presentation outlining the governor’s priorities, click here.