Originally created 05/26/98

Budget conference committee continues to skip over controversy



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Lawmakers tiptoed closer to finishing the $4.9 billion state budget Monday as they continued to skip over most of the controversial items in favor of quickly passing less debatable items.

The House-Senate committee passed over all of the proposed video gambling regulations and bans in the budget on the Memorial Day holiday, saying they weren't ready to commit to any decision.

Senate Majority Leader John Land, D-Manning, and Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, were ready to vote against the House-proposed video gambling ban. "You're not going to win," McConnell said.

It takes two Senate votes and two House votes to approve anything in the budget.

But House members said they weren't ready for that fight yet.

"I would hate to see a line drawn in the sand this early in the process, with so many other important issues still to be decided," said Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Henry Brown, R-Hanahan,

Last week, the committee agreed to fund the Senate's college tax credits and the House's college scholarships plan and improve health care for the state's elderly. But the committee has not decided how to fund these programs, and killed a plan to borrow $100 million to pay for the state's construction programs.

Legislators again skipped most issues dealing with money Monday, saying they would return to them later in the week.

The committee did:

-- Kill $100,000 in funds to preserve historical burial grounds.

-- Approve a study to see if the state Parks and Tourism Department should go back to state-appropriated funding instead of admission fee funding.

-- Raise the monthly judicial and solicitors' expense allowance to $500.

-- Refuse to direct the state Employment Security Commission to help video gambling employees find jobs if the $2 billion industry is banned.

-- Kill a House proposal to allow state workers to telecommute or use alternate workplaces.

-- Kill a House proposal to prohibit state funds from going to any state agency that performs, provides or promotes abortions.

-- Delete a provision that would have prevented state employees from using answering machines or voice mail during work hours.

Senate President Pro Tem John Drummond, D-Ninety Six, said the committee would meet again at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The budget bill still must be approved by the House and Senate after the committee is finished. Gov. David Beasley will then veto items he dislikes.