Legislature negotiates details of S.C. budget

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COLUMBIA --- Final deals agreed to Thursday on a $6 billion state spending plan will give businesses a break on millions of dollars in unemployment tax collections and put millions more into public schools.

The budget conference committee also agreed not to put cash into South Carolina's first-in-the-South Republican primary early next year and left it unclear whether the state GOP will run the event with paper ballots.

The agreement means the House and Senate could accept the final plan Wednesday and send it to Gov. Nikki Haley, who can veto what she doesn't like. She has set the stage already by threatening to veto extra spending on schools or any taxpayer cash used for South Carolina Education Television or the state Arts Commission.

The compromise also includes deep reductions in the state's Medicaid and welfare programs.

For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services this year eliminated or reduced a variety of Medicaid services. The budget also calls for the Medicaid program to cut $125 million from reimbursements to doctors and hospitals.

For weeks, the biggest issue in the spending plan had been $210 million in unexpected taxpayer collections.

The Senate version of the bill used $105 million to increase public school spending and $100 million on the business tax break.

The $105 million would have raised state per-student spending to $1,959 from the current $1,617.

It's still well short of the $2,720 that a state formula says is required and it raised per-student spending to where it was in 2000.

Instead, schools will get $56 million, raising the per-student spending to $1,880.

The presidential primary election funding had been a question for months and will remain so with no additional state funding and no clear language putting the state Election Commission in charge of running the primary.

TAX BREAK ON GUNS: Senators refused to renew a sales tax break on guns.

The House version of the proposed budget included a Thanksgiving weekend sales tax holiday on guns, but the Senate version didn't.

Sen. Joel Lourie questioned the state forgoing $250,000 in gun sales tax collections when schools are laying off teachers.

Senators also rejected measures that would increase tax breaks for movie and television productions and a licensing break for child group homes.

REDISTRICTING: South Carolina senators have approved new election district lines for their 46 seats.

The 37-1 vote Thursday sends the legislation to the House for approval. Representatives gave final approval Wednesday to the new district lines for their 124 seats.

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