South Carolina Senate budget-writing panel takes up 2012-13 spending plan

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COLUMBIA — Pay raises for state workers, more money for special needs students and home services for the elderly are among the topics senators will consider as they craft the state’s spending plan.

The full Senate Finance Committee will begin meeting Tuesday afternoon on its 2012-13 budget proposal. Floor debate is expected to begin mid-May.

The House’s $6.5 billion proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes a 2 percent pay raise for most agencies’ employees, while it gave Department of Public Safety officers 5 percent raises in an effort to stop troopers from leaving for higher-paying local governments. It also directed school districts to give their employees 2 percent raises, though it allowed districts a way out of that mandate.

But Senate budget-writing committee member Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, has said he’ll fight to ensure all workers of state agencies receive at least 4 percent more, saying 2 percent is not enough after three years without a raise.

The average salary for all employees of state agencies and colleges is $49,000, though nearly 56 percent earn less than $35,000 yearly, according to the state Budget and Control Board.

On special education services, education Superintendent Mick Zais asked senators last week to add $36 million to the budget, after the federal education agency denied his request to again delay a funding cut. The infusion is needed to avoid further penalties, as Zais continues his appeal.

The federal government is punishing South Carolina for not spending enough on students with disabilities in the 2009-10 school year – a penalty initially set to start last October. Zais is seeking a hearing before Education Secretary Arne Duncan. His appeal asks that the entire penalty be waived, or at the very least be a one-time cut, rather than continue perpetually.

The state’s office on aging, overseen by the lieutenant governor, asked legislators for an additional $5 million for services that help seniors live in their homes independently. That includes home-delivered meals, transportation and personal care aides.

The House plan provided an additional $200,000. Advocates of the elderly hope the Senate fulfills the entire request, to take senior citizens off waiting lists and keep them out of expensive nursing homes amid the state’s climbing elderly population.

More than 900,000 South Carolinians already are over age 60, and nearly 1.1 million additional residents are between ages 55 and 60, according to the Office on Aging.

Not only do community services keep seniors in their homes where they want to be, but they keep down spending in Medicaid, which often funds nursing home care, said Teresa Arnold of AARP South Carolina.

“By not paying on the front end with a minimal amount, we’re looking at extensive costs down the road,” she said.


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