The South Carolina General Assembly finished up most of its business Thursday, approving $221 million in tax cuts, reforming the state Department of Transportation and passing a $7.4 billion annual budget less than two weeks before the next fiscal year begins July 1.
Lawmakers will return to session one more day, Thursday, to vote on whether to override anything in the budget or other bills Gov. Mark Sanford vetoes.
"We've said consistently that with $1.5 billion in new money coming into Columbia this year, there was no reason in the world that we couldn't cut both income taxes and grocery taxes, and we're pleased to see that the General Assembly ultimately agreed," Mr. Sanford said in a written statement.
The tax-cut proposal eliminates the state's 3-cent sales tax on unprepared foods and eliminates the bottom income-tax bracket, saving most income tax payers about $65.75.
Senators approved the tax cut, DOT and budget proposals Wednesday. The bills passed the House on Thursday without dissension, but that was only after a day of wrangling between House Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans had held up a vote on the budget until the DOT bill passed. However, Democrats, angered that House budget negotiators had stripped $50 million for rural road projects, blocked approval of the DOT bill until a budget vote was taken.
"It was important for us not to have the budget taken hostage by anything," including DOT reform, said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
The Transportation Department bill makes several changes:
- Gives the governor control of day-to-day operations through a new Cabinet-level director.
- Orders a thorough audit.
- Changes how its oversight board is elected.
Ms. Cobb-Hunter said some Democrats doubted House Speaker Bobby Harrell's promise to push for rural-road money next year if a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, that creates a rural infrastructure bank passes.
"When you're up here, you only have two things, your word and your vote, and you have to guard both jealously," said Mr. Harrell, R-Charleston. "Since I've been up here, I've worked really hard to protect those two things."
The problem was resolved when the speaker agreed to Democrats' request that the House vote on the budget first.
He also drew fire from the Senate after giving a speech on the House floor blaming the Senate for not passing the rural infrastructure bank bill.
Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, countered that the bill got to the Senate late, May 22, while he and others were busy finalizing the budget.
It was the Senate that proposed setting aside $50 million for the rural infrastructure bank in the budget, Mr. Leatherman said.
"We fought hard for it. We'll be back next year," he said.
Mr. Harrell made a similar pledge to House Democrats.
"When that bill becomes law, I will certainly support (putting) funding into it," he said.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.
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