Economic advisers add $292 million in revenue

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COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s improving job outlook means legislators have an additional $292 million in one-time and recurring money as they craft the state’s 2012-13 budget.

The state Board of Economic Advisors on Tuesday certified an additional $137 million coming into state coffers in sales and income taxes above earlier estimates for the fiscal year ending June 30, as well as an extra $18 million in lottery sales. The board then added that $137 million to the base for 2012-13 revenue projections.

That means $155 million in one-time money and $137 million in recurring funds, as the Senate Finance Committee continues its work on the state spending plan.

Board chairman Chad Walldorf said the biggest catalyst was stronger-than-expected job growth, combined with lower-than-expected income tax refunds and slightly higher sales tax collections.

“As we have now certified well over $1 billion in new state government revenue this fiscal year, I am hopeful that the General Assembly will use at least some of this windfall to pay down our enormous unfunded liabilities and return a portion to the taxpayers of our state,” Walldorf said.

The House approved its $6.5 billion state spending plan in March, along with a separate bill designating $105 million that represents money put aside this fiscal year in case of a downturn. The measures include a 2 percent raise for public workers, $77 million in tax relief to businesses through unemployment insurance, $180 million set aside to pay for the state’s share of deepening the Charleston Harbor, and one-time money to public universities for deferred maintenance.

The Senate Finance Committee hopes to wrap up its budget work tonight.

Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he will work with staff overnight on recommendations.

“It was a very pleasant surprise,” he said about the BEA decision. “I’m looking at all the needs. This state has a lot of needs.”

Other senators have plenty of proposed uses for the newly certified money.

Sen. Kevin Bryant suggested Tuesday that $93 million be applied toward tax relief. He said such an amount could cover expected revenue reductions in 2012-13 from two bills the House passed last month, which would consolidate personal income tax brackets and reduce the income tax rate that small business owners pay on their profits. His amendment was carried over.

Leatherman said he’s seriously considering passing the small business tax cut this year.

Some senators have said they want to provide employees a 4 percent raise, rather than 2 percent, fully fund local government aid as required by state law, provide $5 million for home health services that allow the elderly to stay independent in their homes, and give one-time money to technical colleges for deferred maintenance.

State education Superintendent Mick Zais has also asked legislators to add $36 million to the budget for special needs students, after the federal education agency denied his request to again delay a funding cut, to prevent further penalties as Zais continues his appeal of the federal punishment.


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