House unanimously approves 2012-2013 Budget Plan

By Seanna Adcox, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina House unanimously approved Wednesday a $6.5 billion state spending plan that gives most employees a 2 percent raise, boosts state law enforcement, and provides health coverage to up to 80,000 additional children.

It also sends an estimated $25 million from an impending nationwide mortgage settlement to the Commerce Department to help lure companies to the state, and covers the full $180 million state match toward deepening the Charleston harbor.

The House voted 115-0 to approve the 2012-13 spending plan for state taxes. The chamber then voted 113-0 on a separate measure designating $105 million from a rainy-day fund.

The measures face another perfunctory vote in the House on Thursday before heading to the Senate.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White thanked members for a civil debate, which began on the floor Monday and ended at an unusually early hour Wednesday. The House last approved a budget unanimously in 2008 and 2005.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell notes the budget contains more than $625 million in tax relief; 88 percent of which is property tax relief due to previously passed laws. The other $77 million gives employers of all sizes tax relief through unemployment insurance.

Harrell praised White for “phenomenal leadership” in his first year as head of the House budget-writing committee.

The separate measure for $105 million represents money put aside in the current fiscal year in case of a downturn. The biggest chunk – $47 million – goes to pay down debt in the unemployment insurance trust fund. The state’s unemployment agency still owes the federal government $780 million of the nearly $1 billion it borrowed to keep sending checks amid climbing jobless rates.

The House voted Wednesday to transfer an additional $30 million to that debt, taking it out of money used for county road maintenance to help hold rates down for employers. The combined $77 million represents an 11 percent savings in employers’ rates, though they’ll still see some increase. Keeping the rates as is would cost $95 million, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.

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