South Carolina lawmakers postpone budget talks

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers say they need more time to figure out the state's $8 billion spending plan for the new fiscal year starting July 1.

In a joint statement released Wednesday evening, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman of Florence and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White of Anderson said they will postpone further budget meetings until June.

"The differences that the conferees face are numerous and complex," the statement said. "These will take time to analyze them all in depth and to reach a consensus on how to move forward and best serve our people."

In the Senate's version of the budget, $20 million was allocated for deferred maintenance of state colleges and universities. Their proposal also included $250,000 in raises for South Carolina's nine constitutional statewide offices, a provision Gov. Henry McMaster said he would veto if it stayed in the final version of the spending plan.

In the House's version, $15 million from the state lottery money would go to fund school safety measures including improved door locks, metal detectors and cameras, and $54 million would fund a new forensics lab for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, money SLED Chief Mark Keel said they've been requesting for quite some time.

"SLED began discussions about replacing our aging laboratory with Governor Nikki Haley's budget staff five years ago," Keel said last month following a heated debate about the crime lab among representatives on the House floor. "State funding is crucial for our laboratory's future. We've been told that for each year we wait, the total cost will increase by at least two and a half percent."

Both chambers agreed teachers deserve a pay raise, but disagree on the amount. House members propose a 2-percent teacher pay raise while the Senate's budget proposes a 1-percent raise.

Leatherman and White said they initially wanted to finish negotiations for the budget Thursday, in time for lawmakers to return to Columbia for the first special session planned next week. Their new goal is to have a budget report ready for House and Senate members June 27, the start of the General Assembly's second special session. The Republican leaders said shortcutting their discussions would not be wise.

"We both feel it is more important that we spend the time to ensure we get the right result rather than to rush just to get a result quickly," the chairmen said.

There are still other pressing matters for lawmakers to hash out during their time back in Columbia next week and in June, including bills concerning the failed $9 billion V.C. nuclear reactor project that utility customers continue to pay for.


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