Originally created 12/19/06

Revenue near $500 million has lawmakers making plans



COLUMBIA - Lawmakers will have $487.2 million to spend when the Legislature returns to session next month, the state's chief economist said Monday.

Bill Gillespie warned that last year's spike in state revenues is unlikely to be repeated this year.

Revenues for fiscal year 2005-06 were up 9.7 percent; so far this year, revenues are up 8.9 percent.

"The revenue stream is still growing fairly well," he told the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the annual budget.

Said Committee Chairman Dan Cooper: "I think we will try to keep an eye on what we fund, knowing that (revenue growth) is not going to be the large numbers that we've seen."

Speaking at Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research, Mr. Cooper said he would like to fund "two or three" initiatives similar to the automotive research center.

Last week, Mr. Cooper voted with the majority of the Budget and Control Board in approving Clemson's plans for a campus in North Charleston that will oversee the preservation of the Hunley, a Confederate submarine.

He'd also like to fund SC LightRail, a proposed $4.5 million fiber-optics project that would interconnect the state's universities, research institutions and some industry, with the hopes of increasing collaboration among those entities.

Mr. Cooper expects kindergarten for 4-year-olds will get another look. But an early estimate of how much it would cost to fund the program statewide is $113 million.

Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, was chosen to lead the public education and special schools subcommittee.

As the chairman, Mr. Smith said, he will have an important role in determining school funding, including having a voice in how South Carolina will proceed with school funding now that the state has taken school operations costs off of property tax bills and decided, instead, to fund schools with a 1-cent increase in the sales tax.

Mr. Smith said he is determined to increase funding for poorer school districts while holding richer districts harmless.

"We as a General Assembly have to face up to our responsibility," he said. "We asked for it, and now we have it."

The Aiken delegation's other Ways and Means representative, Aiken Democrat Bill Clyburn, will serve on two budget subcommittees: health, human services and Medicaid; and the property tax subcommittee.