S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive budget, proposed Tuesday, includes tax exemptions for veterans, a 5% raise for teachers, more than $63 million to bolster S.C.’s technical schools and $5 million for new voting machines.
The governor’s budget (.pdf) includes retirement income tax exemptions for military veterans and first responders and proposes $200 million in tax relief in the form of a one-time, pro-rata tax rebate.
“My 2019-20 executive budget sends $200 million dollars back to the taxpayers in the form of a one-time rebate check,” McMaster said in a budget cover letter. “Surpluses in state government revenues don't mean we have to spend it all; a surplus means prioritizing the most critical needs in state government and returning whatever we can back to the taxpayers.”
The 2019-20 executive budget would also bring S.C.’s average teacher salary to $53,185 and provide $100 million in infrastructure funding, invested by the S.C. Department of Commerce, for the state’s poorest school districts.
The budget also proposes a freeze on in-state tuition increases at state colleges, universities and technical schools in exchange for a 6% increase in institutions’ annual budgets.
Another $46 million would be set aside to allocate a school resource officer to every school in the state in addition to a mental health counselor.
S.C. teachers have advocated for better pay and funding amid an ongoing teacher shortage. Data from the state’s Center for Education Recruitment, Retention and Advancement shows that more than 6,500 teachers left their positions at the end of the 2016-17 school year. While more than 25% of those took other teaching positions, around 4,900 — 38% of whom had five or fewer years of classroom experience — no longer teach in S.C. public schools.
“The time has come to provide teachers with compensation that is competitive – not only in the Southeast but across the nation – to enhance the recruitment of promising young teachers and keep our talented teachers in the classroom,” McMaster’s cover letter said.
The proposed investment in S.C. technical schools would fund partnerships, scholarships and grants as part of a focus on workforce. Another $4 million would be directed toward recruiting businesses to South Carolina.
"In 2019, we must tackle the big issues like teacher recruitment and retention, improving education, developing a workforce for today and reforming our tax code," S.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ted Pitts said in a statement. "The business community is eager to work with Gov. McMaster and the Legislature to ensure that we make progress for families and job creators this year."
Nearly $700,000 would be used for workforce training at the Department of Corrections, which would also receive more than $6 million to recruit and retain officers. An April 2017 riot at Lee Correctional Institution left seven inmates dead.
The S.C. Law Enforcement Division would receive $2.3 million for additional personnel to help combat the state’s opioid problem. According to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, 550 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2016 in South Carolina, a 7% increase from 2015 and up 18% from 2014.
In addition to funding new voting machines, the executive budget would double the registration fee for lobbyists to $200 and require anyone paid to influence decisions made by county, city or town councils to register as lobbyists.
The budget would also allocate more than $40 million for emergency preparedness, including $31.3 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency matching funds to respond to Hurricane Florence. Funding for statewide water monitoring and rural water and sewer infrastructure improvements is also included.
“Viewed in the context of economic competition, it is clear what we must do for future generations of South Carolinians,” McMaster said. “We must compete. We must win. To continue and accelerate this economic prosperity, we must keep taxes low, eliminate suffocating regulations and invest in infrastructure.”