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Raises for Teachers Included as S.C. Approves $9B Budget

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Teachers and almost all state workers are getting a raise in South Carolina's $9 billion budget approved by both the House and Senate on Tuesday.

The budget sets aside $160 million for raises for teachers, who will all get at least a 4% bump in pay. It also has a 2% raise for all state employees as well as a $500 bonus for state workers who make less than $50,000.

The spending plan also gives a $50 rebate on each income tax return, paid for with the $61 million state income tax windfall from South Carolina's $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery jackpot winner along with about $6 million in additional money. It will cost about $700,000 to mail those checks.

The budget gives $25 million in relief for farmers who lost crops and suffered other damage in flooding from last fall's Hurricane Florence and $40 million to buy new voting machines.

The spending plan now heads to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk. The governor has a line item veto, but legislative leaders expect him to reject only a few items so inconsequential they won't have to return to Columbia until next year's session starts.

"Barring an emergency, I don't think we will be back until January," House Speaker Jay Lucas said just before adjourning the House.

The budget also has several items not directly linked to spending. Members of a conference committee agreed to a one year suspension of granting any permits that would allow laying pipes or building tanks onshore that could be used for offshore drilling.

The committee also agreed to give Denmark Technical College one more year to figure out how to turn around a steep decline in enrollment. Other lawmakers had wanted to bump the state's only historically black technical college to trade school status.

"We told them, very clearly, they have one year," said Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Democrat from Hopkins.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman praised new House budget leader Murrell Smith, who was named chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee at the start of this session.

"What a great day. What a different process it was," said Leatherman, a Republican from Florence.

And Smith praised McMaster's staff for working with lawmakers who wanted to include them in the process. The previous two South Carolina governors often found themselves at odds with the legislature in spending, sometimes intentionally.

"That was a refreshing approach," said Smith, a Republican from Sumter.

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