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SC lawmakers pass $9 billion budget, including teacher and public employee raises

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Thousands rallied at South Carolina’s Statehouse to protest, march and speak for improved working conditions for teachers. File/Columbia Police Department/Provided

COLUMBIA — South Carolina lawmakers passed the state's roughly $9 billion budget on Tuesday, bailing out farmers hit by flooding, paying for new voting machines throughout the state and bumping up pay for teachers, judges and other government employees. 

With education reform at the forefront, this year's spending plan focused heavily on students, teachers and schools.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate approved $50 million for maintenance needs at high-poverty school districts. They set aside $10 million to pay for resource officers to patrol schools and $2.2 million to hire mental health counselors in districts across the state. 

They also agreed to boost the pay for every teacher between 4 percent and 10 percent, and provided another $15 million to help cover the cost of salary steps for those educators. 

The pay increases didn't end there. 

Lawmakers doled out a 2 percent pay raise to other employees throughout state government, and added on a $600 bonus for anyone making less than $70,000 a year. 

Judges and court officials will also see their paychecks grow come July. The legislature dedicated $11 million to increase the judicial pay by 33 percent. 

Public employees, however, aren't the only people benefiting from the state's largess. 

The legislature agreed to shell out $25 million to help farmers hit by natural disasters last year, including flooding from Hurricane Florence.

They approved $40 million so the S.C. Election Commission can purchase new voting machines before the 2020 elections. 

And they're giving state taxpayers a $50 rebate using $67 million in revenue and earnings from a huge lottery jackpot last year. That rebate is expected to be mailed out in December. 

The Lowcountry could also see several projects funded come July. 

The legislature voted to give $2.7 million toward sinking the Clamagore, an aging submarine at Patriots Point, as an artificial reef. 

They shifted another $8 million to the proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal, which the State Ports Authority still hopes to complete on the Savannah River by 2035. 

And they agreed to spend $175,000 on the Morris Island Lighthouse off Folly Beach, which is in danger of falling into the sea.  

Gov. Henry McMaster, who has opposed pet projects for lawmakers in the past, could veto some of that spending by the end of month.

But for now, state lawmakers have ironed out the state's finances until next year.  

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how much was allocated to rural, high-proverty school districts for maintenance.

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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