STIMULUS-SANFORD: Gov. Mark Sanford will meet a looming deadline that allows South Carolina to seek disputed federal stimulus money. Sanford's aides said the state would submit paperwork Friday that clears the way to apply for most of the $2.8 billion in money set aside for South Carolina. Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer said Sanford still will not seek $700 million directly under his control. His blanket letter will preserve the state's right to apply for money later. That sets up weeks of uncertainty about $350 million the Legislature said is needed to prevent teacher layoffs and early release of prisoners in the next budget year.
STIMULUS-SCHOOLS: Parents and teachers are predicting their governor's vow to reject federal cash for schools will cost thousands of teaching jobs, crowd classrooms and hurt poor children. Republican Gov. Mark Sanford said he will not seek $700 million in federal stimulus cash, primarily for education over two years. He said it would be better spent paying down debt. State education officials said 5,200 school employees, including 2,700 teachers, will lose their jobs without the stimulus money. There are about 50,000 teachers statewide. Even with the money, districts still will need to eliminate 1,600 jobs, state schools chief Jim Rex said. Kindergarten through 12th grade education has been cut $387 million since July and could face an additional $160 million in state cuts for 2009-10.
CIGARETTE TAX: South Carolina legislators moved Thursday to increase the nation's lowest cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack to generate $139 million for a health insurance program for low-income workers. The House gave the bill key second-reading approval with a 97-22 vote. Routine third reading Friday sent the bill to the Senate. The current tax is 7 cents a pack. It would increase to 2.5 cents for each cigarette in a pack, generating $147 million. That will create a $139 million fund to cover 75 percent of a health care policy for individuals who make up to roughly $21,600 a year. The maximum credit would be $3,000.
BANNING MEGA DUMPS: Legislation to temporarily ban new landfills in South Carolina for household garbage advanced Wednesday. The Senate approved the measure and sent it to the House. The move follows public protests of three proposed giant landfills in rural areas that would take waste from other states. The bill would halt the permitting process until the Legislature approves new regulations reducing how much garbage could be dumped annually in landfills statewide. The measure states that the moratorium could last until Dec. 31, 2010.
EDUCATION: Legislation giving South Carolina schools some budget flexibility has received final approval. The House on Wednesday agreed with changes made by the Senate. The measure, which heads to the governor's desk, allows districts to shift money around to cover shortfalls this school year and next. It gives districts until May 15 to hand out teacher contracts. Districts also can increase classroom sizes, except in 4-year-old kindergarten, and furlough teachers for up to five days, if administrators take 10 days of unpaid leave.
MEDICAID AUDIT: The state's Medicaid agency plans to stick with the contractors it uses to arrange patient transportation to non-emergency medical appointments despite the recommendation of a legislative audit, its director said Tuesday. The Department of Health and Human Services needs to do some analysis and develop more formal goals - which the audit also recommends - before it rebids the contracts, Director Emma Forkner said. But that would take money in a year the agency could lose hundreds of millions of dollars, she said. Agency employees previously directly arranged patients' non-emergency trips to doctor and dental appointments with local companies. But in 2007, the agency hired two out-of-state companies to broker the transportation. Those contracts are up in 2010 but can be renewed automatically for two one-year extensions.
UNEMPLOYMENT: South Carolina legislators rejected a bill Tuesday that would give Gov. Mark Sanford control of the state's unemployment agency, but reconsidered the vote a day later. Sanford supports the bill that would have created a new, Cabinet-level Workforce Department to replace the Employment Security Commission. Sanford said moving it within his Cabinet would make sure it closely worked with his Commerce Department to create jobs. South Carolina's jobless rate of 11 percent in February was the nation's second worst. The House sent the bill back to the Judiciary Committee on a 61-49 vote as legislators railed against Sanford's rejection of federal stimulus cash. But they voted 59-50 Wednesday to bring it back to the floor for further debate in two weeks.