Merrill takes stock of budget
The budget for the next fiscal year is complete. The House and Senate met in Conference Committee to reconcile differences; the report received a favorable vote by the respective legislative bodies.
The budget was then sent to the Governor. She returned 81 vetoes and the Legislature overrode 46 of them. The reasons for those vetoes being overridden varied from the transfer of $50 million non-recurring dollars without equivalent spending cuts (a move that throws the entire budget out of balance) to differences over the importance of projects.
But suffice to say that of the approximately $22 billion dollar state budget, the vetoes in total amounted to a small portion of said budget.
The largest bone of contention, the implementation of a large expansion of state supported K4 education programming, was not vetoed despite the governor’s opposition. I am not sure why.
Nor do I understand why some projects and initiatives that meet the governor’s expressed definition of “pork” remain in the budget; while others that are far more important to the overall economic health of the state were eliminated.
Because of these discrepancies the Southeastern Wildlife Festival (one of the largest economic drivers in the state, from which every county in the state receives accommodations tax revenue) will not receive funding but the park at Folly Beach will receive funds. By the way, I support Folly but I don’t understand the inconsistency of that approach.
I also had placed money on the line that would have given the City of Charleston funding to add lights for Governors Park and improve security under the overpass and around parking areas ... a project that serves tens of thousands of people. The Governor vetoed that line, and despite the House overriding the veto, it was sustained by the deep thinking Senate. Yet a boat ramp on Sandy Island that serves maybe 40 people was approved. I find that bizarre and frustrating.
That being said, the good news is that the state budget is balanced and our reserve accounts have been satisfied. The highlights include:
- Matching funds of $50 million to bond $500 million for roads, bridges and infrastructure
- $41 million directed to state secondary roads
- Increased state spending on K-12 education and for the base student cost of approximately $77 million
- Funding for pay increases, provided through the districts, for public school teachers
- $8 million in tax credits for private school scholarships for disabled students
- $26 million to expand the state’s 4 year old kindergarten program
- $54 million to cover health care premium increases for state employees
- 30 additional state troopers
- Appropriated funds for an additional year of identity theft protection; security upgrades for state agencies and tax deductions for those individuals and families who purchase their own monitoring services
- The conservation land bank was funded and will also receive money from the Savannah River settlement
- Expanded programming for technical colleges concentrating on manufacturing and trade specific curriculum
- An endless litany of unaccountable funding for higher education programs that our colleges and universities put forth. (I will write a more comprehensive column about spending in higher education later this summer.)
- Increased funding for state parks and tourism initiatives
- Increased recurring funds for aid to subdivisions, i.e. the local government fund
- Reductions in most “other fund” spending, i.e. fees generated by agencies that are essentially “off-line”.
And finally, a few local notes are in order. The Berkeley County delegation co-sponsored my bill to increase the number of precincts on Daniel Island and the Cainhoy area from two to five. These changes will go into effect for the next election and voters should receive notification of their new precincts soon. Nothing changed in Hanahan or Mt Pleasant. I will go into greater detail at a later date, but suffice to say this should reduce the three-hour lines that clogged the most recent general elections.
Thank you for the opportunity to represent you and our community’s interests. I hope you have a happy and safe Fourth of July.
Rep. Merrill is the former Majority Leader of the SC House of Representatives and represents District 99.