COLUMBIA - Democrats took another run at several contentious issues during Tuesday's round of votes on the state budget, including fully funding per student costs and the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans say K-12 public schools are a big winner in the House budget plan, but Democrats say the plan still doesn't meet the state's obligation to education.
A 115-2 vote late Tuesday in the House gave key approval to its $7 billion spending plan for state taxes. It adds more than $180 million to K-12 education in the fiscal year starting July 1.
But House members rejected an amendment that would have increased $537 million to fund education at state-recommended levels. The amendment was introduced by Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who sought to increase funding to $2,742 per student, instead of the $2,120 currently allocated.
Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, said after the vote that current education funding formulas don't take into account many factors and a revamp of the formulas should likely be considered in the future. Patrick is the head of the House's K-12 Education Subcommittee.
"We need to figure out how we're going to fund education better than we already do," Patrick said. "If we can't meet the state's current formula, then we need to come up with a different formula."
Rep. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, said the House has to work on its priorities when it comes to spending. He called on increased funding for education and pre-K education.
"We make a lot of symbolic gestures," Whipper said. "We really need to focus on making our budget reflect how we live and what we need."
Other proposals were rejected Tuesday, including Lieutenant Governor-hopeful Bakari Sellers's amendment, which would have ended the lieutenant governor's security detail. The House also approved $187 million for the local government fund, up from $182 in previous years. An additional $25 million in one-time money has been added to the fund as well.
After the local government section was approved, Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson said counties and municipalities often criticize how the General Assembly allocates money to the local government fund, but they tend to overlook other local-level funding the body does.
"We have to fund the three branches of government," White said. "In a perfect world, we would fund the local level."
Members also killed a provision that would have prohibited local governments from charging a fee when people pay their taxes with a credit card. The authors of the measure, Charleston Representatives Leon Stavrinakis and Jim Merrill, a Democrat and Republican, respectively, argued in favor of the provision but were defeated.
During his discussion, Stavrinakis said he didn't agree with people being forced to pay interest on fees they owe local governments.
"When I was in county council we didn't charge this fee," said Stavrinakis. "I just don't think it's right."
Merrill and Stavrinakis did get an amendment to pass, however, that will penalize local governments for profiting from charging customers a fee for paying taxes with plastic.
Other late night measures were killed, including an amendment by Rep. B. R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, that would have increased the gas tax by five cents each year for three years. Skelton argued the gas tax captures money from tourists and truckers coming through the state.
"Tourists and truckers pay about 35 percent of the fuel tax in South Carolina," Skelton said. "We need to collect that money."
Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said earlier in the night he was not surprised by how the votes were going. He added those elected should remember they are public servants.
"The question still begs, have we represented the people of South Carolina to the best of our ability," Gilliard said. "The answer should be 'no'."
Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.
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