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Losers of House's rewritten budget plan include law enforcement, K-12; SC State gets a boost

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A law enforcement training center, K-12 school construction and rural utility infrastructure are among projects eliminated or drastically reduced by the House's refusal to borrow money as part of its budget package.

However, a few items were added to the rewritten plan, notably $4 million to help financially troubled South Carolina State University pay off some of its oldest bills.

Amid opposition from Gov. Nikki Haley and an influx of nearly $50 million in unexpected cash, Republican House members rejected the idea of borrowing $500 million for building projects across the state. Ways and Means Chairman Brian White ended up making the motion to kill his committee's proposal.

A $275 million borrowing compromise was poised to pass, White said, until legislators learned of the newly available money, as well as lawsuit winnings that could become available later in the budget process.

"Some folks saw the extra money and said, 'Can't we just pare it down?' So OK, that's what we did," said White, R-Anderson. "I'm slightly disappointed, but it's still a long process. If the money comes in, we could definitely use it to fund some of the projects."

Another perfunctory approval on Tuesday will send the House's $7 billion spending plan to the Senate.

Many pared-down college projects were shoehorned into the rewritten plan, approved late Thursday. That includes money to renovate the University of South Carolina's old law school, cut from $15 million to $3.5 million, and Winthrop University's library, slashed from $15 million to $100,000. Projects that remained intact include $5 million for USC's South Carolina Library.

Money for an aeronautical training center at Trident Technical College in North Charleston — where Boeing is expanding — was cut in half from $40 million.

The $50 million set aside in the bond package for K-12 construction has been reduced to $500,000.

Items cut to make room for the shifts include money for school buses, from $30 million to $17 million; and classroom textbooks, down $5.5 million to $14.5 million.

Money in the budget for two additional family court judges was nixed entirely.

"Our family court judges are the lowest paid in the Southeast while carrying the heaviest caseload in the nation — not per capita, but heaviest per nation," said Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, earlier this week. "Your family — either extended or yourself — will be affected by that."

The State Law Enforcement Division will receive $5 million toward a new lab, instead of $12 million, needed primarily for DNA and toxicology testing, both of which are backed up, Pitts said.

The $10 million slated for SLED's advanced training center was among the bond package's eliminated items. Others include $9.2 million to renovate the Administrative Law Court building, $60 million for water and sewer projects for potential industrial sites in rural areas, and $2 million toward the African-American history museum in Charleston.

SC State got a boost in the rewrite.

The state's only public historically black college owes more than $11 million in unpaid bills. With its debt escalating, despite two state bailouts approved last year, the Legislature is moving to fire all trustees and replace them with a temporary board in an effort to return the school to solvency.

A clause added to the House's list of one-time spending items specifies that the $4 million must go toward vendor debt.

"We wanted to give the new entity some ability to make some improvements," said Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, chairman of Ways and Means' higher education subcommittee.

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