COLUMBIA, SC — The leadership of the House and Senate is deciding whether to address the Governor McMaster’s vetoes this summer or wait until the General Assembly returns for the 2018 session in January. Since the fate of the Governor’s $56 million in vetoes will have little impact on funding for independent higher education programs in the final FY 2017-18 budget, the budget actions below can be considered final.
The General Assembly allocated $500,000 to the need-based Tuition Grants program and $500,000 to the state’s need-based grant program. The Tuition Grants Commission had requested $5.3 million to increase the maximum award from $3,200 to $3,650. CHE requested $1.1 million for the state program. The House version of the budget did not provide additional funds for either program. The Senate version recommended $1.3 million for each program.
Because the Tuition Grants Commission receives approximately 16% of the total appropriations of the state’s need-based grant program, the Commission will receive an additional $80,000 from this program in FY 2017-18. Unfortunately, the modest increases to both programs are not sufficient to raise the maximum Tuition Grant above the current $3,200 figure.
The House and Senate fully-funded the merit scholarship program to include adding more than $14.5 million to cover the cost of approximately 6,300 additional students who qualified for scholarships after the high school grading policy was changed last fall from a 7-point to a 10-point scale.
After being shut out in the House budget, PASCAL, the higher education academic library consortium, was added to the budget as the #2 priority for up to $1.5 million in unclaimed excess lottery funds. Gov. McMaster vetoed this line item and others preferring to carry lottery revenue in excess of estimates forward into the next year and be used for scholarships. With or without the veto, it is highly unlikely that PASCAL will receive any funds this year because there will not be sufficient excess funds to cover allocations.
In a year when revenues were flat, legislators were challenged to find funding not only for the day-to-day operations of state government, but also for exceptional demands such as $150 million to shore up the underfunded state pension plan, $68 million for Hurricane Matthew relief, and almost $30 million to accelerate the replacement of school buses. It proved to be a difficult budget year for higher education.