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Tax cuts, new bonuses in McMaster state budget

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA – Gov. Henry McMaster’s suggestion on how South Carolina should spend additional billions of dollars contains familiar demands he hasn’t received in his five years in office, such as lower taxes on income.

But the governor is sprinkling in new proposals, such as bonuses for school bus drivers, money to expand election audits, and money to replace South Carolina’s aging health lab.

McMaster released its budget request on Monday. The General Assembly controls what is spent, but lawmakers have had a good relationship with the governor, whose ideas at least carry weight in the House and Senate chambers above his desk.

There is a lot of extra money stealing. The state expects to collect $ 1 billion more in taxes in the fiscal year that begins in July than before. An additional $ 1 billion remains from previous years, when the state was careful about spending, fearing the COVID-19 pandemic could destroy the economy.

There is also more than $ 3 billion in federal COVID-19 assistance and penalties paid to South Carolina because the US government missed deadlines to remove nuclear material from the Savannah River site near ‘Aiken.

At the top of McMaster’s list – as it has since taking office as governor in 2017 – is an income tax cut. The governor proposes to reduce South Carolina’s maximum rate from 7% to 6% over five years as long as economic growth continues. It would cost $ 177 million next fiscal year and around $ 1 billion per year when fully implemented.

The governor said South Carolina needed the income tax cut to remain competitive with neighbors North Carolina and Georgia, which would still have lower rates.

The governor suggests that all state employees be eligible for a raise, but the $ 47 million he is setting aside would go towards merit increases. Agency officials would decide who received additional compensation and how much with the approval of human resources employees in the Administration Department.

McMaster’s plan includes increases of $ 31 million for law enforcement, prison workers and other public safety positions. But how this will be distributed would be based on a study to ensure that workers doing similar jobs – like juvenile prison guards and regular prison guards – earn the same pay and that both officers and soldiers. state are paid in accordance with their peers in other states.

The governor had already announced several of his proposals, such as nearly $ 1.3 billion for the expansion and repair of roads. About two-thirds of that is COVID-19 relief funds. McMaster wants to set aside $ 100 million this year and for years to come so South Carolina can get more highway funds from the federal government.

Part of the money would be used to start a project to expand Interstate 26 to three lanes from Columbia to Charleston and Interstate 73 to provide a freeway connection from Interstate 95 to Myrtle Beach.

The rest would tackle the DOT’s classified list of jobs they want to do, like expanding I-95 to three lanes just north of Georgia or completing widening Interstate 85 to at least three lanes across the state.

The governor also announced his wish to set aside $ 500 million to repair aging local water and sewer systems, including sweeteners like parks or new roads for cities with smaller systems that keep them. allow to be absorbed by the older ones.

McMaster is proposing to send an additional $ 3 million to the state electoral commission to conduct more audits of election results and $ 100 million to replace the state health lab, which is around five decades old.

The governor’s budget suggests paying school bus drivers an annual bonus of $ 2,000, paid in installments in August, December and May, to keep drivers from leaving. It would cost around $ 12 million.

There are smaller projects that are important for McMaster, like spending around $ 200,000 to hire a State Law Enforcement Division officer to focus on stopping animal fights, which was one of McMaster’s goals when he was Attorney General from 2003 to 2011.

McMaster’s budget would also spend $ 1.7 million to double the budget of the State Ethics Commission so that it can hire more investigators and give the State Inspector General 1.5 million dollars more to extend its jurisdiction to any group that receives money from the state, from school boards to cities to nonprofits.