On Monday the S.C. House of Representatives approved its version of the $13.9 billion state budget.
There was much good news in it for SCICU member institutions. First and foremost, the House retained last year’s $10 million increase in funding for the Tuition Grants Program. The House also retained the $40 million increase for CHE Needs-Based Grants to public university students, of which Tuition Grants receives about 15%.
PASCAL, the interlibrary loan system for the state public and private colleges and universities, received the full $1.5 million it requested. Since its creation in 2004, PASCAL has saved higher education institutions in South Carolina more than $100 million.
What could be called a challenge for SCICU member institutions, the House is allocating $55.3 million to subsidize the public universities keeping their tuitions flat for the coming school year.
Additionally, state employees would receive a three percent pay raise, and a $1,500 one-time bonus.
The budget now moves to the Senate which will likely amend the budget, particularly regarding income taxes.
Last month the House approved a tax cut, supported by Governor McMaster, that would reduce the state’s top rate to 6.5% from 7.0% and would eventually bring the maximum rate to 6.0% in future years if state revenues continue to grow. The plan also collapses the middle tax brackets into one 3% tax bracket and exempts from tax all military retirement income.
The tax cut would cost $600 million in the first year, and about $1 billion annually when it’s fully implemented.
Not to be outdone, last week the SC Senate unanimously passed a $2 billion income tax cut and rebate bill. Their plan reduces the top income tax rate from 7.0% to 5.7%.
It would also provide at least $100 to everyone who files an income tax return in South Carolina. Individuals who pay $100 or less in state income taxes, including those who pay nothing, would receive a $100 rebate. Those who pay between $101 and $700 would receive a rebate similar to what they pay in income tax in a year. The rebates would be capped at $700.
This week both House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) and Majority Leader Gary Simrill (R-York) announced they would not seek re-election. Both have been strong supporters of independent higher education in South Carolina and will be missed.
The lone candidate to replace Speaker Lucas is House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith (R-Sumter). We’re not expecting any “home cooking,” but must point out Speaker-to-Be Smith is a Wofford graduate.