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SC lawmakers send Haley budget with $216 million for road repairs

Author: Seanna Adcox

Source: The Augusta Chronicle

June 25, 2015

COLUMBIA — A budget that distributes $216 million to counties for road repair and provides $70 million toward infrastructure promised to Volvo was approved Tuesday by the South Carolina Legislature.

The budget package, which allocates more than $7 billion in state tax revenues, sets aside $50 million to be used later in a plan to borrow $500 million for large highway projects. But that money can’t be used until legislators pass a long-term plan for fixing South Carolina’s deteriorating roads.
The spending plan was sent Tuesday to Gov. Nikki Haley. She has until late Monday to issue line-item vetoes, meaning the budget will become law just in time for the fiscal year’s July 1 start. Legislators will return within the next two weeks to consider overriding her vetoes.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, on Wednesday called the $216.3 million a “huge boon” toward helping repair existing roads. The counties’ share – based on their population, land area and road miles – ranges from $1.7 million for Allendale County to $12.5 million for Greenville County, according to a Senate Finance Committee spreadsheet.

That’s in addition to the $71 million expected to be distributed to counties in 2015-16 through their nearly 3-cent share of the state’s 16-cent gas tax. But counties must spend the additional money on state roads that don’t qualify for federal matching funds. Such roads account for half of the state highway system’s 41,415 miles.

“It’s good news, but it could be better news,” said Simrill, who led the House panel that crafted the chamber’s road-funding proposal.
“We have in effect left $500 million on the table, in addition to not getting a roads bill, so we don’t have the reliability and sustainability of other new money coming in” through a gas tax partially paid by out-of-state tourists and truckers, he said.
The House passed a road-funding proposal in April that would have raised $400 million annually for roadwork. The Senate Finance Commit­­tee came up with another plan expected to generate nearly $800 million through gas and sales taxes and fees. But the full Senate never voted on it before the regular session ended earlier this month.That bill will be high on the Senate agenda when legislators return in January.

The $70 million for Volvo roadwork leaves the state borrowing $53 million to fund an interchange off Interstate 26 and a road to the future plant in Berkeley County. The infrastructure is part of more than $200 million in state incentives promised in securing Volvo’s first North American plant.
The budget package also includes $25 million toward a new, $350 million children’s hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina, expected to open in 2019. That money allows MUSC to close on a federal loan and maintain the project’s timeline, spokesman Mark Sweatman said.
Boeing has pledged $5 million toward the hospital, and Benefitfocus CEO Shawn Jenkins has pledged $25 million.
“We’re ecstatic the Legis­lature followed through with its commitment” despite the defeat earlier this year of bills that borrowed money for MUSC and other colleges, Sweat­man said. “We were able to come through with a big win for the state.”

Here are some of the highlights of the Legislature’s plan for more than $7 billion in state taxes for the fiscal year starting July 1:
ROADS: $216.3 million will be distributed to counties for repair of existing roads, and $70 million will partially fund promised roadwork for Volvo’s future plant. $50 million will sit in an account for future borrowing. It can’t be used until the Legislature passes a long-term fix for roads.
EMPLOYEES: $23.5 million will provide state employees who make less than $100,000 an $800 one-time bonus, to be paid in October. $34.4 million will cover increases in employees’ health insurance premiums.
SCHOOL BUSES: A minimum of $21 million. Depending on lottery revenue, as much as $31 million could be available.
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES: $8.5 million to hire 262 employees, mostly caseworkers and assistants, and provide pay raises of up to 15 percent to help with retention.
BODY CAMERAS: $3.4 million to go in a fund that law enforcement agencies can apply to for their officers’ cameras.
MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: $25 million toward a new, $350 million children’s hospital.
TRIDENT TECHNICAL COLLEGE: $20 million toward an aeronautical training center at the school in North Charleston, where Boeing is expanding.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY: $4 million to pay down some of the financially struggling school’s unpaid bills.

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