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South Carolina Lawmakers Expect Fierce Debate On $61M Lottery Tax Windfall

In South Carolina's nearly $9 billion budget, one small pile of $61 million is likely to get a lot more attention than any other.

The money comes from income taxes the state should get after the Mega Millions lottery pays a lump sum of $878 million to the person who turned in the winning ticket days ago from last October's drawing.

Nervous budget writers removed the money last month just in case the winner never came forward. But now it is expected to be back, and there are plenty of ideas on what to do, fueled by the feeling this money serendipitously fell into lawmakers' laps.

"It's like manna from heaven," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.

The official plan in the budget the Republican-dominated South Carolina House will begin debating Monday is to take the $61 million lottery windfall, add $35 million from elsewhere and give $50 to the roughly 2 million people who pay state income taxes. It is a plan backed by Gov. Henry McMaster.

"Every South Carolinian who pays taxes should share in the rewards of this ticket. It's their money, not ours," said House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith, a Republican from Sumter.

[Related Content: SC Lawmakers Seek Education Changes; Have Extra $1B To Spend ]

But others like Cobb-Hunter think the state's kindness should be delivered a different direction. The Democrat from Orangeburg plans to propose an additional 2 percent raise for state employees who make less than $50,000 a year. The budget already has a 2 percent raise for all state employees.

"You show what is important to you by how you spend your money," Cobb-Hunter said. "So say 'thank you' with some cold, hard cash."

The state's total budget is nearly $30 billion. But lawmakers only directly control how about $9 billion is spent.

Budget writers had plenty of decisions to make. This budget has about $1 billion more than last year's spending plan, split nearly evenly between revenues the state can expect to get each year and money it is getting as a one-time windfall.

House budget writers showed members a slideshow with highlights of the spending plan Thursday. The first slide touted the $159 million they want to use to give all teachers a 4 percent raise and to give an added boost to teachers with less than five years of experience.

The House is the first step for the budget. The Senate will get its own crack at the spending plan, then a small group of senators and House members will work out a compromise and if both chambers approve, then the governor gets his own review and a line item veto.

Here are other highlights from the House's spending plan:

Raises For (Almost) All

Teachers aren't the only state employees getting raises under the House plan.

The budget sets aside:

—$41 million to give most state employees a 2 percent raise.

— $11 million to raise the pay of judges, some of whom haven't had a base pay increase since 1996.

— $1 million for salary increases for guards at juvenile jails.

— $711,000 to create a new rank of Master Trooper that would mean raises for some troopers with at least 10 years of service

— $383,000 to give raises to some law officers in the Department of Natural Resources

New Stuff

— $40 million to replace the state's voting machines, which are around 15 years old. The new system will generate paper ballots for increased vote security.

— $1 million for advertising South Carolina's beaches. Lawmakers said they have been told vacationers are staying away because they think the beaches have been permanently scarred by recent hurricanes.

— $10 million for additional police officers in schools

— $10 million to improve security at state prisons

— $4 million to help the Department of Motor Vehicles deal with an expected sharp increase in traffic as people have to visit their offices to upgrade to the federal Real ID needed to get on plane or into a federal courthouse after Oct. 1, 2020.

Government Business

— $36 million to help reduce the pension liability for state workers

— $22 million to match federal disaster money from Hurricane Florence in 2018

— $85 million for a new fund for the Commerce Department to help bring business to poor, rural areas with struggling schools. The money can go toward water and sewer or buildings.

— $61 million for repairs and maintenance on state buildings that have been put off or delayed

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