COLUMBIA — South Carolina's Supreme Court justices heard arguments today about whether counties are required to use tax dollars to pay for the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

A ruling is expected as early as next week. The primary is scheduled for Jan. 21.

If the justices agree that the Legislature did not require the counties to pay for the primary, then the Republican Party would have to raise the cash.

Democrats and Republicans joined sides to petition the court to require public dollars to be used for the primary, although Democrats will not vote in a nominating contest in 2012, because President Barack Obama is up for re-election.

Columbia-based lawyer Joel Collins argued that a primary is not a necessary a step to electing a president and that parties can nominate a candidate several ways. Collins represented the four counties that brought the case.

They are Beaufort, Chester, Spartanburg and Greenville counties. A dozen other counties, including Berkeley, support the suit.

Collins said the primary would cost the counties a combined $2.5 million, although it is not immediately clear what costs that estimate includes.

"Our county governments, supported by the taxpaying citizens of those counties, have a lot of financial problems,"' Collins said. "To (require) us to cough up approximately $2.5 million is simply unfair and unreasonable."

State GOP Party Chairman Chad Connelly suggested that the counties were using the primary as an opportunity to generate cash to offset other expenses.

"We think the Legislature was clear," he said. "We think it's covered in the budget. ... What are counties trying to get over on the election commission?"

Read more in Tuesday's editions of The Post and Courier.