COLUMBIA, SC — The Senate completed work on the $7.5 billion state budget for FY 2016-17 on Wednesday, May 4, capping one of the briefest (four hours) budget debates in years. The Senate’s budget closely resembles the House version thanks to a prior agreement on how to fund roads this year. This may mean that a conference committee of 3 senators and 3 representatives could agree on a comprise plan quickly and send it to Gov. Haley for approval and possible vetoes.
The Senate’s budget will be considered by the House when the House returns from furlough on May 17. It is expected that the House will non-concur with the Senate’s budget, and the House and Senate leaders will name the Conference Committee members shortly afterwards.
Independent higher education received favorable consideration in both versions of the budget. The final outcome will not be determined until both the Senate and the House agree on a final state budget and Gov. Haley signs off. Hopefully, the budget and any vetoes will be addressed before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 2.
In general terms, the budgets passed by the House and the Senate increase funding for the Tuition Grants Commission by $2.53 million. This amount, as requested by the Commission, will allow the maximum need-based Tuition Grant to increase from $3,100 to $3,200 for the 2016-17 academic year.
Like the House, the Senate voted to fully-fund the State’s merit-based student financial aid programs—Palmetto Fellows, LIFE, HOPE, and Tuition Assistance scholarships—by appropriating more than $300 million in lottery funds.
The budgets passed by the House and Senate would increase the Higher Education Commission’s need-based grant program by $4.54 million. The Tuition Grants Commission receives between 16%-17% of the total need-based appropriation based on the percentage of students attending independent colleges and universities. If funded at the new level, it is estimated that more $5 million will be distributed to the Tuition Grants program.
Unlike the House, the Senate did add funding for the academic library consortium PASCAL to its version of the budget. PASCAL is now the first priority in Unclaimed Lottery Prizes in Excess of $18 million. The $1.4 million appropriated to PASCAL will only be available if the total amount of unclaimed prizes exceeds $18 million. SCICU and its public higher education allies will try to persuade the Conference Committee to adopt the Senate version of spending in this category.
At this point, SCICU is very optimistic that the FY 2016-17 funding priorities will be realized thanks to the hard work and support of the SCICU Board of Trustees, students, faculty and staff from our member colleges and universities, and the many friends of independent higher education.