South Carolina lawmakers will have an additional $1.2 billion to spend when they write next year’s budget, thanks to state tax collections being higher than predicted. But as big as that surplus is, it won’t cover the state’s needs for additional money.
Some lawmakers want most of the surplus to pay for the state’s share of fixing recent flood damage, while others think it should go to the road and bridge needs the state already had before the flooding. The Department of Education is asking for an additional $227.4 million to raise the base student cost, which is the amount of money the state sends to local schools. And the Department of Social Services is also asking for a budget increase to hire more caseworkers, to lower the caseloads of those protecting children and vulnerable adults.
Rep. Tommy Stringer, R-Greenville, says, “The first thing we need to do is take a look at what the true cost of the flood damage is, and we’re not there yet. So determining what that number is, combining that with what we know we need to do about the road conditions before the flood happened, those are the two primary things we need to look at.”
Rep. Gary Clary, R-Clemson, says education and DSS should also be in the mix. When it comes to using the surplus for roads and bridges, he says, “Our long-term needs are going to have to have some sort of consistent method of funding those, because it’s not something that we can expect to pay for out of the surplus every year and put our roads and bridges in the condition they need to be in.”
But a lot of taxpayers think using most of the surplus for roads makes sense. Matt Kennell of Columbia says, “I’d like to see it go into infrastructure–roads, bridges, flood damage, anything we can do to improve the infrastructure in our state.”
Rodney McClinton of Columbia agrees. “I drive 18-wheelers for a living and this is one of the worst places I’ve been as far as the roads, so I think that’s where it should go as far as flood recovery and the roads,” he says.
Robin Chaplin of Columbia says, “I think it should go to the roads, just because I travel so much and I see so many potholes that are causing tire damage and knocking your front end out of alignment, and it’s just a big issue for me.”
But several lawmakers want at least some of the surplus to go back to taxpayers in the form of some kind of tax relief. Rep. Stringer says, “While we are calling it a $1.2 billion windfall for the government, that’s $1.2 billion that the taxpayers don’t have. So it’s, in reality, $1.2 billion that’s their money, so we should always bear in mind that as we consider what we’re going to do next.”