UPDATE: State Budget on Senate Floor

LAWMAKERS’ PRIORITIES: MORE DEBT, HEEDLESS
INCREASES TO STATE COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES

This week the state Senate is debating the state budget produced by the Senate Finance Committee. This spending plan, unsurprisingly, is the largest budget produced this cycle, weighing in at $26.1 billion (that’s including a $1.5 billion appropriation for food stamps that was moved in 2013, for unspecified reasons, to an unbudgeted account).

Capital Reserve Fund and bond bill

In addition to the $84.8 million Capital Reserve Fund bill that includes capital, maintenance, or equipment financing for USC Columbia (Honors College lab), Clemson (general maintenance), Francis Marion University (computer software), and virtually every other institution of higher education, the Finance Committee tacked on a $236.7 million bond package – all but $15 million of which is dedicated to higher education.

The House scrapped a similar bond measure after receiving backlash for proposing more debt. Senate Finance simply added its own bond bill to the budget bill’s Capital Reserve Fund. Whether that is constitutionally permissible, since the constitution prohibits the chamber from originating revenue-raising legislation, is unclear. Similarly unclear is whether a bond bill, which involves debt financing, can simply be combined with an appropriations bill.

Federal funds

Federal funds account for nearly $8.1 billion, slightly more than one-third of the overall budget. This massive sum, remember, isn’t “free money” but money drawn largely from federal taxpayers in South Carolina. And since the federal government doesn’t give away money without dictating how the money will be spent, there are literally thousands of hidden mandates in that $8.1 billion – many of which require changes in state policies.

Winners in the budget

The biggest winners in the Senate Finance budget (as was true of the House Budget) are state colleges and universities. Some of the most notable changes from the House Budget to the Senate Finance Budget include:

  • Shifting roughly $85 million back to the Commission on Higher Education. The House had transferred this money to the state treasurer.
  • Increasing Clemson’s budget by $59.8 million, a 7.17 percent increase.
  • Increasing USC Columbia’s budget by $17.4 million, a 1.61 percent increase.
  • Increasing the Department of Commerce budget by $21.35 million, a 24.26 percent increase.
  • Increasing the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism budget by $11.1 million, an 11.88 percent increase.
  • Increasing the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs budget by $22.2 million, a 3.41 percent increase.
  • Increasing the Conservation Bank budget by $12.1 million, a 123.12 percent increase.
  • Increasing the budget for legislative services by $1.1 million, a 19.25 percent increase.

Nearly all South Carolina’s publicly funded colleges and universities received some funding in the bond bill, too, the majority of which is earmarked for capital improvements. Some of the most notable appropriations in the bond bill include:

  • $91 million for the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education, to be divided among various technical colleges.
  • $20 million for Clemson (the majority of which is for a business and behavioral sciences building).
  • $20 million to USC Columbia (the majority of which is for the South Caroliniana Library, and renovation of the old law school – the school is building a new one several blocks away).
  • $20 million to MUSC for a children’s hospital.

SCPC will continue to provide coverage of the budget as it develops before the full Senate, and throughout the rest of this year’s budget process.

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