By Sen. Kent Williams
This week the Senate finished up the fifth week of extensive debate on the appropriation bill for the fiscal year starting in July 2011. I would just like to take a moment to provide you with some details of the Senate’s version of the appropriation bill that was returned to the House for concurrence on Tuesday, May 24th. The budget that was passed by the SC Senate is above the last year’s level which indicates and gives hope that we are beginning to see economic recovery in our state.
Throughout the budget process we have been acutely aware of the necessity to fund our core programs such as education of our children, the health of our neighbors, and the public safety of our families and friends.
On the education front the Senate version of the budget includes: funding the Base Student Cost, $349 above current levels, restored funding for guidance & career counselors in schools, provides recurring funds for charter schools, additional funding directed to address education needs of students with disabilities, protection for Palmetto Priority Schools, which are the poorest performing schools in the state, additional funding for the Governor’s School for Math & Science and for governor’s School for the Arts and funding for the purchase of school buses and bus fuel.
The safety of our citizens is of paramount importance to the Senate, this version also includes addition dollars to SLED to upgrade their in-car cameras used for DUI enforcement, provides funds for illegal immigration enforcement and capital complex security, also includes recurring funds for the Department of Corrections to allow them to function without a deficit and funding to the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole to meet requirements of Sentencing Reform.
In the areas of Health and Human Services, we fully funded the HHS budget to maintain current programs and allow for growth, provided the agency flexibility for cost saving measures and provided the agency with funds to ensure access to care, primarily for use in rural areas.
There is also funding in place to fund county health departments, funding for the Aids Drug Assistance Program, funding for vaccines for children and cancer screenings for low-income women. Also, funding for the Meals on Wheels program was provided for in the budget.
For higher education did sustain budget cuts for four-year institutions, however technical schools are not affected by the budget reductions. Funding was provide for deferred maintenance, this is not been provided since FY 06-07. The Senate also chose to provide $13 million to our technical college system for the “ReadySC” program which provides job training for new and expanding business.
Additionally $100 million was provided to the Department of Employment & workforce for placement in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. This funding will be used to make payments on loans and reduce unemployment insurance rates for employers and the budget fully funds the General Reserve Fund and the Capital Reserve Fund.
The House will now review the bill that was returned by the Senate and in all likelihood the final budget will emerge after a conference committee. I will continue to keep you posted on the progress that the budget makes.
By Sen. Kent Williams