FLORENCE, S.C. – S.C. Rep. Murrell Smith, the chairman of the South Carolina House Ways and Means Committee, offered Florence Rotary Club members a glimpse of the 2019-20 budget.

The four primary themes:

>> Attracting and retaining teachers.

>> Funding higher education and freezing tuition.

>> Protecting taxpayers and keeping debt low.

>> Funding core functions of government.

The total budget for 2019-20 is $29.95 billion.

Smith said they have budgeted $159 million to increase the minimum starting salary for teachers from $32,000 to $35,000 and give across-the-board 4 percent increases to teachers. Teachers with four years of experience or less, the most critical for teacher retention, will receive between a 6 percent to 10 percent raise.

“This is the largest teacher pay increase since 1984,” Smith said.

He said fully funding the pay raise with state money will allow districts more flexibility in classroom spending.

He said the goal is to reach the national average in teacher pay within the next five or so years.

Smith said tax relief for the 2019-20 budget includes $614 million in direct property tax relief for South Carolinians. There will be a one-time $50 taxpayer rebate for every return filed with an income tax liability, he said.

Smith said in the past 25 years, the General Assembly has passed more than $42 billion in tax cuts.

South Carolina is one of 14 states with an AAA credit rating from Moody’s.

Smith praised S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman for helping to keep the state’s debt low.

Smith said the budget includes a 2 percent pay raise for state employees.

“They haven’t had a pay raise since 2016-17,” he said.

Some of the budget highlights include $50 million to the Department of Education for capital improvements in the state’s poorest school districts for K-12, $10 million for additional school resource officers and $19 million for new school buses.

In higher education, $44 million is budgeted in recurring funds to cap the cost of tuition for in-state students (with an exception for state-mandated pension and health care increases) and $17 million for the SC WINS scholarship program to provide full tuition to students at technical colleges seeking degrees in industry sectors with critical workforce needs.

There will be $37 million to show a state match for three new veterans nursing homes and $30 million for maintenance of state-owned buildings.

Funded priorities for recurring priorities are teacher salaries, $159 million; state health insurance plan increase, $50 million; Medicaid maintenance of effort, $50 million; higher education tuition freeze, $44 million; 2 percent state employee pay raise, $41 million; pension reform contribution increase, $32 million; capital reserve fund contribution, $11 million; local government fund increase, $11 million; judicial salary increase, $11 million; corrections Hepatitis C treatment, $10 million; and DDSN direct care workers increase, $10 million, for a total of $429 million. (Available for state operations: $68 million).

Non-recurring priorities are higher education capital needs, $112 million; state-owned building maintenance, $25 million; new statewide voting system, $40 million; VA nursing home state match, $37 million; DSS child support enforcement system, $29 million; General Reserve Fund, $27 million; FEMA Hurricane Florence state match, $22 million; Judicial Case Management System, $11 million; and corrections prison safety upgrades, $10 million. (Available for state operations: $167 million).

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