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From the House Floor: Budget Debate

I briefly took the podium yesterday to honor my word by showing support for our state employees. Most times that I can recall throughout the year, it’s always Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, alone, speaking on behalf of this group during budget debate. Yesterday, she was not alone. After she and I spoke, the Ways and Means Chairman (aka Budget Chairman) spoke and affirmed his desire and intentions to join us in a pay increase this year.

The video speaks for itself, but for background, our state employees often are not on the top of any budget lists in the General Assembly. Frankly, many times the Senate increases their pay/benefits after the House send our budget to them. (To be fair, most times, the revenue estimates are much higher for the Senate to work with due to the timing of the process and the economic numbers being updated).

In any case, I will work to be sure our state employees receive a raise (and hopefully not just a bonus) when the House returns in the coming months to consider additional funding.

House budget calendar

This is my third term as a member or the House Ways and Means Committee (‘budget committee) and like last year, it’s going to be very challenging times. Fortunately, the House did not go along with the Senate’s wish for a new budget and instead we stuck with the same level of spending from the prior year (passing a Continuing Resolution). Had we not done that, we would start with making draconian cuts to what was proposed.

As I learn more about our economic situation, I will keep you informed!

Here are the dates for hopefully passing a budget through the House in time for the Senate to address.

House Ways and Means Committee
2021 Budget Schedule:*

January 12 – 14: First week of session & budget subcommittee meetings
January 19 – 21: Budget subcommittee meetings
January 26 – 28: Budget subcommittee meetings
February 2 – 4: Budget subcommittee meetings
February 9 – 11: Proviso Subcommittee meeting

February 23 – 25: Appropriation bill printed
March 2 – 4: Printed appropriation bills placed on House members’ desks


Important Dates:
January 31, 2020: Deadline for proviso submittals
February 15, 2020: BEA estimate due
* Schedule subject to change at the discretion of the chairman.
** Full committee and House floor deliberations may begin on the Monday of the weeks indicated.

Budget Update

Serving on the House and Ways committee gives me much more insight into our state finances than I had the first several years I served in the House. Even when I was on other committees, I viewed the budget as our biggest responsibility in office.

During my time in office, I’ve been known as one of the top fiscal conservatives in the State House and oftentimes sustain more Governor Vetoes than most my colleagues. The budget is complex and the budget is always imperfect. I wrote about that years ago and it still rings true.

What started as a very promising budget in January has changed – dramatically. The General Assembly will return September 14th for two weeks to finalize a budget that was put on hold earlier this year. We will be faced with many difficult decisions.

From The State Newspaper

This year was shaping up to be a boon for many state employees and agencies, some long neglected since the Great Recession led to massive budget cuts.

State economists had projected legislators would have nearly $2 billion more to spend this year over last year — amounting to the largest annual revenue growth in state history. The money would go toward fixing state prisons and raising teacher and state employee pay and a host of other priorities.

But that was before the COVID-19 outbreak that led to lost jobs, skyrocketing unemployment and a giant decline in tourist travel and economic activity.

Now state budget forecasters say most of the extra cash lawmakers had hoped to spend in the budget ending June 30, 2021, has been cut back dramatically — by an estimated $1.2 billion — leaving lawmakers with about $700 million to spend in the upcoming budget, based on current projections. And this fall the budget could hit another snag if the economy struggles more resulting in the downward revision of that $700 million projection.

What does that outlook mean for some of the costliest budget items included in the House’s spending plan adopted in March?

Read more from The State

Budget week – Day One (that’s a lot of votes!)

176 votes!

That’s how many votes the House cast today during the first day of floor “debate” on the budget. Let me put that in context for you. While opponents love to see any “missed votes” by elected officials; frankly, not all votes are equal.

I remember in my primary last year, my opponents tried to create an issue that I had missed “100+ votes out of 200.” Something to the effect of trying to make it look like I missed half the votes we took for the year and that I was somehow not doing my job. (Sidenote: I had actually missed the first day of the budget back then due to an obligation with my paying job). There’s too much to unwind there, I don’t have the time or bandwith here to unravel again; but the voters saw through that smear (and others) and re-elected me with an overwhelming 70% vote compared to 25% and 5% for the other 2 opponents.

The votes today were never in doubt and were basically “non contested” in the sense that on the first day of the budget, the House goes through each section ( with a ROLL CALL VOTE – by the way, my bill with former Rep and Governor Nikki Haley ) that does not have any amendments on the desk OR has that does not have a request from a member to “carry over” until later in the week (where we would actually debate the sections). As you can see by the photo, most votes are unanimous or close to unanimous. If you want to click on the link above (176 votes) you will see the “closest” vote on a section today was 72-32 and 66-19. The OVERWHELMING number of votes were unanimous or had no more than 1-4 members voting against.

Every first day of the budget is like this. It’s the rest of the week where the votes “matter” and will actually be contested.

Simply put, before you fall for an opponent’s attack against an elected official (or a special interest group’s attack), just call your Representative or Senator and ask what happened. Today there were several members who were away from the chamber. Many of us have paying jobs and sometimes those jobs (or families) take priority over what are considered, basically, uncontested votes.

Just wanted to share this today for my colleagues who may have been absent or abstained from votes (many attorneys have conflicts of interest). I’d hate for them to be smeared like me and others have been in the past. I get it, that’s SC politics. It’s no fun; but the public deserves to know the story behind the votes. It’s exactly what my colleagues told me when they fought against roll-call voting. They knew that it would simply be “gotcha” for slick consultants and opponents to use against them in mail pieces or on the campaign trail.

Even though I was a part of “gotcha” politics by others manipulating the voting numbers, I would still lead the push again for roll call voting because there ARE many votes that matter and our constituents need to know where we stand on those issues.

As always, if you have an issue important to you, let your elected official know! Tomorrow we begin the “real debate” on the budget – we’ll be in chamber again all day; so make your voice heard.

2019-2020 Budget proposed by House Ways and Means Committee

The 2019-2020 budget is built on the foundation of protecting taxpayers, a renewed commitment to being resourceful and efficient, funding only core functions of state government, and providing value for every dollar we spend.

Since Republicans became the majority party in the S.C. House of Representatives in 1995, more than $42 billion has been returned to taxpayers. These tax cuts and rebates have taken the form of:

• $220 million that residential homeowners deduct annually from taxes they would have paid for school operating expenses.
• $217 million that seniors in our state save every year in homestead exemption taxes.
• $650 saved on average per family per year since we completely eliminated the tax on groceries.
• $108 million that married couples save annually because we eliminated the marriage penalty that married couples had to pay when filing their taxes jointly.
• $5 million students save every year since we reduced college tuition for instate students.
• $52 million last year alone that small businessmen and women save each year in lower unemployment insurance costs – the largest rate cut ever.

Because of our fiscally conservative budgeting, South Carolina is currently one of only fourteen states with a AAA credit rating according to Moody’s. Our debt level is 0.39% of state revenues which is significantly lower than our constitutionally set limit of 5%.

In addition to efficiently funding the normal core functions of government, this year we are making substantive investments in education and workforce development. We have prioritized public and higher education not only because we owe it to our students, but also to ensure our students are better prepared for the workforce and to fill the 72,000 technical jobs currently vacant in our state. We believe that a good education provides the foundation every man, woman, and child needs to have their own chance to succeed in our state’s new prosperity.

Serving on the House Ways and Means Committee (a/k/a “the budget committee”) these past 3 years has provided me valuable insight into the awesome responsibility of investing and prioritizing your tax dollars to achieve the best results for our state.

The following are a few of the highlights of the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget:

• Nearly $160 million to provide every teacher a pay raise, helping to ensure that we recruit and retain the very best teachers. 30% of the budget surplus from last year will be devoted to raising teacher pay.
• $44 million to colleges in exchange for an agreement to freeze the cost of tuition for in-state undergrad students.
• Nearly $68 million for improvements to workforce partnership programs in technical colleges, including funding for training new workers and purchasing new workforce equipment.
• $10 million to start the effort to put a school resource officer in every school.
• $2.2 million to begin giving schools access to the services of a mental health counselor.
• State Aid to Classrooms that will increase average per pupil spending to $3,840.
• $20 million for new textbooks and updated student instruction materials.
• $19 million for new school buses to replace South Carolina’s aging school bus fleet with newer, more fuel-efficient models.
• $85 million for the Rural Infrastructure Plan that will bring jobs and investment to the state’s poorest rural school districts.
• $100 million for maintenance, renovation, and capital needs for our state’s four-year colleges and two-year campuses.

• $50 million for health insurance rate increases for state employees.
• $5.5 million for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These funds will bring S.C. up to the southeastern average and enable more children to have health insurance coverage.
• $6 million to combat the opioid crisis through education and treatment programs.
• More than $10 million to provide key DSS support workers a pay raise, an increase from $12/hour to $13/hour.

• $4.4 million to provide law enforcement and firefighters a pay raise.
• $42 million to provide state employees an across the board 2% pay raise.

• With the surplus money in the budget this year every taxpayer will receive a one-time refund.

• $40 million for new voting machines to ensure our election process is secure and fair.

SC Budget heads to Governor’s desk

We returned this week to finalized next year’s budget (which ultimately passed 84-28 in the House and passed 30-9 in the Senate). In the coming days, Governor McMaster will get to issue his vetoes – and I look forward to seeing many of those and hope we can sustain those that are not the best use of your tax dollars.

If you ever wanted to dive into the budget, here it is. Click and “enjoy”.

Below are some highlights for the areas most often asked about by constituents.


 $22 million to fully fund Constitutional Reserve Funds, which brings the
reserve fund total to $515 million ($364 million – General Reserve; $151 –
Capital Reserve)
 Reduced the total budget by $2.4 billion by removing double-booked funds
and items in higher education that are not state funds
 $599 million in direct tax relief for South Carolinians


 $32 million to fund the General Fund employer cost of Year 2 of the multiyear
plan to bring down the multi-billion pension liability
 $56.4 million to cover 100% of the state employee health and dental
insurance increases so employees will have no additional monthly
premium cost
 Expanded to cover Well Visits as a contractual service, which will require copays but
also count towards deductibles
 Small increases to patient liability in deductible and copays


Teacher Salary Increases
• $31 million for a statewide teacher salary increase of 1%
• $7.8 million to increase the statewide minimum starting salary for a
teacher with 0 and 1 year experience from $30,000 to $32,000
Increased School Funding
• $55.8 million to increase the Base Student Cost by $60 per pupil to
• $13 million for SC Public Charter Schools student growth
• $11 million for Technical Assistance for low-performing schools
School Buses
• $12 million in recurring, non-recurring, and lottery funding for new
school buses
• With this new funding, all 1995 fire-prone buses will be off the road
by the start of the school year
School Resource Officers
• $2 million recurring for hiring certified law enforcement officers to
serve as School Resource Officers
• Funds are available for school districts that otherwise would lack the
adequate resources to hire their own SROs, with districts of the
lowest index of taxpaying ability receiving priority consideration
• Allows any retired Class 1 law enforcement officer to return to
employment as an SRO without affecting the monthly retirement
School Safety Upgrades
• $15 million in the Lottery for School Safety and Critical Facility and
Equipment Improvements
• Funds are for life safety infrastructure for school facilities including
door locks, security cameras, metal detectors, lifesaving medical
equipment and SRO equipment


Scholarships and Tuition Aid
 $11 million for Workforce Scholarships to provide grants for tuition, fees, transportation,
or textbook expenses to SC residents enrolled in a career education program at a
technical school or professional certification program
 $3.9 million to create Palmetto Promise Scholarship Pilot program that awards
scholarships to students from the Abbeville plaintiff school districts
 For the third year in a row, fully funded LIFE, HOPE and Palmetto Fellows Scholarships
through the Lottery, including the increases from the 10-point grading scale
Technical Colleges
 $4 million in recurring increases for all technical colleges
 $9.4 million for the successful ReadySC job training program, which provides customized
training for new and expanding business and industry
 $11 million for High Demand Skill Training Equipment to be distributed to all technical
Colleges and Universities
 $20 million in recurring to help bring colleges and universities closer to pre-recession
funding levels
 $50 million non-recurring for capital projects and maintenance needs at colleges around
the state


Heath and Human Services – Medicaid Budget
 $26.4 million for the state Medicaid Maintenance of Effort and annualization to
continue current level of services without expending agency reserves
 Includes Increased revenue assumptions and lower targets for managed care rates
 Continued funding for the Healthy Outcomes Proviso, serving over 14,000 highutilizers
of emergency rooms and/or inpatient services through coordination with all
Medicaid-designated hospitals, 70 primary care safety net providers, and three
behavioral health clinics state-wide
Health and Human Services – Rural Health Initiative & Telemedicine
 $3.5 million in increased funding for the Rural Health Initiative. DHHS will continue
to partner with the USC School of Medicine in the development of a long term
strategic plan for addressing medically underserved communities in the rural areas
of the state through services such as the iCARED initiative.
 Aimed at supporting and developing medical education in rural areas through rural
residency placements and infrastructure improvements
 $5 million in non-recurring through Telemedicine Proviso for continued
infrastructure build out and $1 million increase in recurring funds for Telemedicine
operations – this brings total recurring dollars for the SC Telehealth Network to
$11.5 million in combined funding through DHHS and MUSC
Health and Human Services – Autism Spectrum Disorder
 $4.8 million increase in state recurring funds for increased rates for autism therapy and
service providers ($9.4 M in matching federal funds)
 Rates for ABA line therapists will increase from $17.38 to roughly $30/hour with
increases to the supervisor rate from $58/hour to $64/hour
 Agency has updated the rate methodology to reflect cost-driven structure and avoid
blending the supervision rate with line therapists
 Rates are indexed against national standard cost of employment information, and
proposal is being distributed to providers by the end of the month
 DHHS is continuing to explore opportunities to increase capacity in the workforce, so
that children are not placed on waiting lists – 20% increase in enrolled providers since
November 2017
DHHS, DAODAS and MUSC – Opioid Abuse Prevention
 Over $11 million in increased state funding specifically aimed at addressing the Opioid
Epidemic through DHHS and DAODAS
 $5 million in state funds for the MUSC Hospital Authority Health Innovations Program,
which includes funding to expand the Emergency Department MAT pilot established in
FY 17-18 to additional hospitals
 Proviso 117.142 will use these funds to implement many of the House Opioid Abuse
Prevention Study Committee recommendations
 $4 million in non-recurring through HOP proviso 33.20 for capital improvements to the
behavioral health facilities based on need as determined by DAODAS and DHHS
Other Health Agencies
 DSS – $23 million in recurring funds to address required components in
settlement agreement and continue child care match for $8.65 million in
federal funds, $25 million in non-recurring for the continued development of
the Child Support System
 DDSN – $11.3 million to increase the department’s direct care staff starting
salaries agency wide from $11/hour to $12/hour and a 3-4% increase to direct
care wages for employees working with the department for at least 5 years,
$500,000 increase to the Greenwood Genetic Center for Autism Research,
$650,000 for in-home Autism Support services
 DMH – $6.9 million to increase funding for Supported Community Housing,
Child and Adolescent Intensive Community and Residential Services, and
enhanced School Based Services
 DHEC – $2.4 million for the EMS Performance Improvement Center and the
Credentialing Information System, Enhanced Communicable Disease
Prevention and Treatment, including funding specific to HIV/AIDS, Breast and
Cervical Cancer, and Colorectal Cancer [Read more…]

12:01 a.m House gives budget Third Reading

After 13.5 hours of debate Tuesday (and literally hundreds of roll-call votes yesterday and today), the House adjourned at 11pm to return at 12:01 am Wednesday for the required Third Reading of the State Budget. The budget passed almost unanimously (116-2) as did the Capital Reserve Fund (110-1). In the coming weeks the Senate will have their deliberations and then a House/Senate Conference Committee will work out differences so that both bodies pass the same budget for the upcoming 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The General Assembly will return at a later date to take up any vetoes from the Governor.

Around 7:30pm, House members made way to grab a quick bite of pizza in the chamber between the House and Senate. Eating while still having to cast votes. There were no lunch breaks today and no one left the chamber after we gaveled in at 9:30 am. Photo credit: Rep. Derham Cole

2018-2019 Budget Briefing

The floor debate for next year’s budget begins Monday at 1pm.

To see the briefing provided to House members earlier this week, click here .

To see more detail, click here .

Of course, if you’d like to watch the floor debate, you can click here . (Link may not be correct if watching from IPhone. If needed, visit and click on House Video). Debate Monday should go til 6pm (estimate). Monday is usually the day when the non-contested areas of the budget receive roll call votes. Sometimes it’s 200 votes cast in one single day. Generally, those votes are almost always unanimous or 90%-10% votes. Tuesday is when you can actually see live debate. We should start in the morning on Tuesday (9am? 10am?) and go longer than we do Monday (most likely into the evening). Depending on progress/amendments Tuesday could go past midnight (it has in the past) and/or we will return Wednesday to hopefully have 3rd reading. The budget (like all legislation) requires 3 readings.

Once the budget passes the House, it must also pass the Senate. After that time, a Budget Conference Committee (3 members of each body) will meet to debate differences and reach resolution. From there, the budget goes to the Governor’s Office where he will certainly have vetoes for us to consider at a later date.

The state’s budget cycle is from July 1st each year thru June 30th.

Governor McMaster’s first budget veto message

One of the most important roles in the General Assembly is being a good steward of your tax dollars.

I take that role very seriously and every year am one of the House Members who usually sustains many budget vetoes (that means, I agree with the message for the veto). I used to catch a lot of grief for this back in the day (first elected, new guy, “that’s not what we do around here, Ballentine”). Since then, members realize that I’m voting as I feel is best – AND – based on feedback from the people I represent.

You can imagine the “peer pressure” back when someone had a project in there and you were telling them you can’t help them. But, as I wrote many years ago, I was elected to represent my constituents and the best interests of the people – not any friends in the House or Senate.

With that said, now is your time to let me know your thoughts on Governor McMaster’s first budget vetoes . Unlike years past, the General Assembly won’t return in the coming weeks to consider these vetoes. It appears we may wait until January 2018 and take our votes then. Every year, you’ve given me great feedback and information I did not have previously. If you have a strong opinion one way or another (to override or to sustain the veto), please let me know.

Comment below, contact me here , or email me at (please put CONSTITUENT in the subject line) and give me your advice. I would appreciate it!

The Budget: debate begins March 21st


One of our most important jobs in office is to be stewards of your tax dollars. Monday at 1:00pm the session begins. How long the debate will last is never known. Sometimes we go past midnight. I remember one time we went til about 6am. Usually we finish no later than Thursday. For those interested, you can watch live by clicking here .

For information about the budget; you can click any of the links below.

Budget Briefing

Final Summary Control Document

Proviso Summary

Proviso List

Once we receive the “Earmark List” (on our desk Monday in Chamber), I’ll tweet that out .