Originally created 02/21/99

Republicans, Hodges clash over budget



COLUMBIA -- Republicans and Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges are headed for a budget showdown over dueling proposals for video gambling regulations and pre-kindergarten programs.

House leaders say Mr. Hodges has refused to give them details of the major initiatives he wants funded despite written requests.

"We're not waiting on an executive budget to move forward," said Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville. "On March 15 we're going to pass a budget."

But Mr. Hodges' chief of staff, Kevin Geddings, said the administration has been "in constant contact" with House leaders. Mr. Hodges wants $20 million for his First Steps pre-kindergarten program that will be similar to North Carolina's.

He also wants to more closely regulate video gambling -- the industry whose contributions helped him get elected -- and generate $200 million in tax revenue from the games.

Mr. Hodges is considering whether to lift the $125 payout limit. He promised to freeze the number of licenses, but also proposed background checks on license applicants.

"You can't effectively regulate this industry when you have a stopwatch attached to your skull," Mr. Geddings said, reminding Republicans that Mr. Hodges just took office last month.

"And it's been a month," House Majority Leader Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, shot back. "The General Assembly, the budget of South Carolina, people's lives don't wait."

Mr. Hodges is not required to submit an executive budget because former Republican Gov. David Beasley did that before he left in January. Republicans say without one, however, Mr. Hodges is playing politics and snubbing a chance for the parties to work together.

"I believe they will try to drop it on the floor of the House as bombs in the middle of budget week to have us in a position where if we oppose something, they can claim we're generally opposed to the things they want," Mr. Harrell said.

Republicans are countering with their own proposals. Mr. Wilkins said among the video gambling proposals being considered is a 10 percent tax on gross profit, establishing a maximum bet, limiting advertising, limiting hours of operation and prohibiting inducements to play such as free drinks. Money will be appropriated to the final plan in about a week, he said.

Mr. Harrell also is moving forward on his Jump Start pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds.