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From the State House: March 10
Last week the South Carolina House Ways and Means Committee put the final touches on the 2015-2016 budget. Throughout Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, Chairman Brian White and his subcommittee chairs presented the budget to members of the House via small group meetings. Next week, I will provide an update on the budget debate on the House floor, which began in earnest on Monday.
Meanwhile in the Senate, the Finance Transportation Funding Special Subcommittee met on Tuesday afternoon. Chairman Ray Cleary briefly and vaguely went over his proposed plan that will generate between $700 to $800 million annually. It was clear that the Chairman wasn't going to go into the details of his plan, but after speaking with members on the committee last week here are a few highlights I was able to discover:
- Between $115 -$120 million will go to the counties as they take over responsibility for/maintenance of nearly 20,000 miles of roads
- A 10 cent increase to the state's motor fuel user fee.
- Several existing tax exemptions will be removed (However, exemptions for prescription drugs and groceries will not be removed)
Members of the committee said the Chairman’s proposed plan will be the committee’s working document. They are scheduled to meet again today.
Finally, the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee met to discuss Senator Tom Young's bill that would allow in-state tuition for military personnel and their dependents to comply with federal legislation. Federal law mandates that all colleges and universities must offer in-state tuition to military veterans. The most pressing issue is deciding how long the instate tuition is available. The bill is one of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force's (SCMBTF) legislative priorities. Similar legislation has been passed in neighboring states and is one of several items the SCMBTF is pushing this year to ensure South Carolina is viewed as a "military friendly" state.
The proposed legislation will have a financial impact on most South Carolina colleges and universities. The largest impact will be on The Citadel due to the high percentage of military veterans enrolled. The Citadel estimates the bill could impact them by nearly a $2 million per year. The subcommittee felt there are ways to make up the short fall, but the biggest worry comes with the length of time this benefit will be available to discharged military personnel after their discharge date. Federal legislation states the benefit must be used within three years of discharge, however Senator Young's Bill does not include similar language. Amendments were made to both mirror the federal legislation, limiting the benefit to three years, and to extend it to 15 years after discharge. The subcommittee didn't vote on either proposal in order to allow both to be brought up before the full Finance Committee.
As a member of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force, the Chamber supports this legislation.