Battles delayed for week

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COLUMBIA --- Senators went home for the week Thursday, making little progress on a contentious $5.7 billion budget that could leave state workers jobless and force prison closures. And there was little action taken on plans to spend $350 million in federal stimulus cash that could ease both problems.

Senators did give approval to a bill that strips $50 million from a fund that helps municipal and county governments pay for police, fire and emergency medical services.

"We wanted to fund the $50 million. Just didn't know how to do it without actually shutting down agencies of state government," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, argued local governments don't have nearly as much to complain about as state agencies. He noted their aid is tied to a formula that during the past decade has increased state aid by 40 percent.

"They had a whopping increase in the amount of revenue they get," Mr. McConnell said. And they were immune from cuts, "yet everybody in state government except them is getting cut."

The bill won second reading with a 23-19 vote, making it clear the Senate could use the money in its budget.

On the prison front, Mr. McConnell helped kill an amendment that would have required the Corrections Department, part of Gov. Mark Sanford's Cabinet, to begin planning which prisons to close and what prisoners might get months shaved from sentences.

"What we've got here is essentially allowing a governor to change a judge's sentence," Mr. McConnell said.

Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said legislators, not the Corrections Department's director, need to decide who gets released early.

He said it's the General Assembly's responsibility to properly fund Corrections.

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