Originally created 04/16/04

Plans widen gap in budget



COLUMBIA - Instead of cutting state spending to cover a new $107.8 million hole in the state's spending plan, Senate budget writers came back to the table Thursday with plans to spend $13.7 million more.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said his subcommittee chairmen will have to go back and cut budgets because there's no appetite to raise taxes.

"We've got to deal with the $107 million," Mr. Leatherman said.

"At some point in time, if the subcommittees can't do what's got to be done, then I will take the budget and I'll do with it what's got to be done. ... It's got to be done."

That amounts to about 2 percent of the $5.4 billion the House approved in its version of the state budget last month.

Putting the budget back in balance could involve across-the-board cuts, said Senate Education Committee Chairman Warren Giese. "Two percent must be looked at as something that is manageable," Mr. Giese said.

The Senate has done so in the past, and it wouldn't be surprising if it took that route again.

The $107.8 million gap developed Wednesday as the Finance Committee dumped or altered several proposals pushed by Gov. Mark Sanford and the House.

For instance, the committee said Wednesday it wouldn't go along with Mr. Sanford's proposals to sell part of the state's car fleet or sell nearly as much land as the governor sought.

Those two decisions alone cleaved $42 million from the revenue side of the budget.

The committee also decided to restore a job tax credit program for businesses. That added $30 million in spending.

Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, had suggested using more money from the state's lottery to pay for education programs and help close the spending gap.

Though lottery funds could be used to raise per-pupil spending, Mr. Leatherman said it couldn't be used to cover the $107.8 million gap.

The day's budget hearing began with a plea from South Carolina Education Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue, who tried to persuade the senators to ditch a House plan that he said would have reduced prize payouts.

In states that have done that, people have played less, Mr. Passailaigue said. South Carolina could lose up to $100 million in lottery money if prizes are reduced, he said.