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SC agencies want $2.8B more next year — or $1B more than what's available

Teacher Protest sign.JPG

Teachers and supporters gather outside of the South Carolina Department of Education building in Columbia on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Lauren Petracca/Staff

COLUMBIA — State agencies collectively are asking lawmakers for more than $2.8 billion extra next year to raise salaries, improve security and repair public buildings, according to The Post and Courier's review of their budget requests. 

Agencies are seeking way more than what's available, even in a year when legislators will have an additional $1.8 billion to spend in the state budget.

Where the additional money comes from will factor into how lawmakers whittle agencies' requests for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Roughly $800 million of the anticipated new money can be spent on continuing expenses such as salaries. The other $1 billion is one-time money from previous projections being overly conservative and unspent rainy-day reserves.

The projections prompted Gov. Henry McMaster to renew his call for tax cuts. Legislative leaders indicate they also want to incorporate tax changes in the budget.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he wants to "give some of that money back" so the budget doesn't top $10 billion for the first time as predicted.

"The House plans to use a large portion of these dollars to address much-needed income tax reform, fulfill its earlier promise to the teachers of this state by putting in place a substantial raise and preparing for the future by bolstering the state's general reserves," House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, said in a statement Monday. 

Here are some highlights of requests posted online by the state Department of Administration.    

K-12 education 

The biggest request, by far, came from the state Education Department, which is seeking nearly $670 million. 

About $165 million of that would give all K-12 public school teachers a 5 percent pay boost, roughly matching what legislators spent in the current budget to provide all teachers at least a 4 percent raise. Teachers working in the classroom fewer than five years got up to a 10 percent raise this year. First-year teachers now make at least $35,000.

Lucas has pledged to push teachers' pay in South Carolina above the national average over several years.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman is asking for $92 million to increase per-pupil spending by $75, though that would still leave the state's main funding formula for schools underfunded by $600 per student.

She might revise her request up before presenting it to legislators since it was crafted in September, weeks before the state's economic experts released their plan for simplifying education funding and before their $1.8 billion announcement.

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Other pieces of her current request include $100 million for instructional materials, $98 million to buy or lease new school buses — which would replace all 894 school buses older than 15 years old — and $150 million to help tiny, rural school districts consolidate and build regional career centers.

Colleges

The state's four-year colleges are collectively seeking more than $520 million, with the Medical University of South Carolina asking for the most. 

MUSC's nearly $100 million request includes $60 million for building and renovation projects and $10 million to connect to Charleston's storm water drainage system.

Recurring flooding from storms and king tides makes our "campus roads impassible and mean that our healthcare facilities become islands and emergency access is delayed or blocked altogether," the request reads.

The University of South Carolina is seeking an additional $63 million for its Columbia campus; 55 percent of that would go toward relocating the School of Medicine, now housed in the Veterans Affairs hospital in Columbia in space rented for $1 a year.

Just modernizing the leased space for "another generation of medical students" would cost $75 million, and the $1-a-year arrangement is over in 10 years, according to the college's request, which contends the better plan is to build a new school closer to downtown. It's asking for $35 million to jumpstart private fundraising for the project's total estimated cost of $285 million.

The state agency that oversees South Carolina's two-year technical colleges is asking for $316 million, the bulk of which would be distributed to the 16 schools for building and maintenance projects. Greenville Technical College is seeking the most at $38 million, followed by $31 million for Spartanburg Community College and $28 million for Trident Technical College.

The agency that awards college scholarships is asking for $32 million for needs-based grants that would be distributed to poor students over the next four years.

Prisons

The state's long-underfunded Department of Corrections is seeking $316 million, half of which would go toward security upgrades, repairs and renovations at prisons statewide. An additional $15 million is sought just to start replacing outdated fire alarms. 

Last year, following the deadly prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution, the prisons agency asked for $160 million for upgrades. Prisons received $10 million instead in the current budget. 

The agency with chronic staffing shortages is also asking for $26 million to increase salaries of officers and medical personnel.

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.

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