COLUMBIA — The $9 billion spending plan South Carolina senators will debate in the week ahead maintains the 4 percent pay raise for teachers the House proposes, but gives state employees an additional $600 bonus and decreases a judges' salary hike.
The plan the Senate will take up starting Wednesday looks a lot like what the House passed a month ago, with a few key differences. Here are some of the highlights:
One thing that hasn't changed will likely disappoint teachers who had asked senators for a bigger pay boost.
Like the House, the plan advanced by the Senate Finance Committee spends $159 million to increase teachers' pay by at least 4 percent. Teachers in the classroom fewer than five years would see larger increases of up to 10 percent. Legislative leaders in both chambers insist this is the first of a several year phase-in to increase all teachers' pay by 10 percent.
State employees who make less than $70,001 would receive a $600 one-time bonus on top of the 2 percent cost-of-living salary increase the House provided. It would mark state employees’ first across-the-board raise since 2016. Exceptions are college employees whose salaries already exceed $100,000. Both plans specify they don't qualify for the 2 percent.
Judges would still see the biggest jump, though half as much as in the House plan. Senate Finance's plan provides $6 million to provide 15 percent raises, rather than $11 million for a 33 percent leap. Either would reset judges’ base salaries for the first time in 23 years.
Chief Justice Don Beatty’s salary would jump to $179,550 — instead of $208,000 under the House plan — up from his current pay of $156,200. By law, all other judges' salaries are calculated as lower percentages of his.
Helping rural South Carolina
The plan advanced by Senate Finance sends $65 million to high-poverty school districts for maintenance needs; that's $15 million more than the House. Both plans would distribute the money much like legislators did in 2017, when 48 poor districts each received $1.16 million, which didn’t go far.
But the Senate Finance Committee recommends sending the state Commerce Department less to recruit businesses to the state's poorest school districts — $50 million instead of $85 million. The money could go to water and sewer infrastructure or, if it’s needed to entice an employer, renovating or building schools.
Senate Finance provides $25 million in relief to farmers who lost crops amid the flooding in the fall caused by Hurricane Florence. That's in addition to the $22 million the House provided to cover the state's match for federal emergency money.
Senate Finance eliminated a proposal to turn Denmark Technical College into a regional career center for both high schoolers and adults seeking an industry certificate.
Enrollment at the historically black college in one of South Carolina's poorest areas has dropped steadily over the last decade, to just 400 students. The state Technical College System recommended in January removing the school from the 16-college system.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, has argued turning Denmark Tech into a trade school would ensure its doors stay open to continue offering educational opportunities. But alumni, school administrators and area officials oppose the change and have asked for more time to turn enrollment around.
After the Senate approves its plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, a panel composed of three senators and three House members will meet to reach a compromise between the chambers' budget proposals.
The session is scheduled to end May 9.