State News Good News for Our Budget?
Story by: Krishayla BoydStudent Journalist
South Carolina’s budget forecasters may have good news in store this week, just ahead of lawmakers’ return to Columbia in January. The good news could impact a range of South Carolinia citizens, from K-12 teachers to inmates and guards in S.C. prisons.
When South Carolina’s 170 lawmakers return to the State House next year, they likely could see at least $1 billion more in new money to spend, an amount that could exceed what economists estimated last year--which is on top of a $350 million surplus the state’s Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom reported in August. The state’s budget forecasters met today, where representatives expected to hear about the flush of new money, which would bring the state’s total general fund budget to more than $9.3 billion--more than last year’s estimate.
S.C House budget chief, Murrel Smith, states, “It’s hard to prioritize when you don’t know how much money would be available”. Dealing with teachers, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland says, “Education is always our priority (in the House Democratic Caucus)”. The state spent close to $160 million this year to raise the starting salary for teachers, a few months after 10,000 teachers and their supporters marched on the State House to demand better working conditions. As the debate on school reform continues, lawmakers said the state’s more than 52,000 teachers need to remain a priority.
The states prison's were also a topic of discussion among legislators. It is one of the state's largest agencies, and the budget continues to grow as costs continue to rise. It has been more than a year since the deadly prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution, and they are still in need of more cameras and vests and radios for their correctional officers. There are also system upgrades and replacements necessary at the facility. $10 million was given for service and equipment upgrades, but the agency needs more, lawmakers said. Even the air conditioning and heating units need replacements or repairs. Mr. Bryan Stirling commented that temperature affects "the safety and security of the population. ... Just like with food. If they’re satisfied with what they are getting, it makes it safer for our staff and our folks that are incarcerated.”
These requests and hundreds more will become public this month. Some will make it into Governor Henry McMaster’s budget proposal.