Legislative Week: stimulus cash and cigarette tax

The Senate Finance Committee is not adopting the practice of keeping two sets of books.  However committee chairman Hugh Leatherman say his group will draft two budgets next week: one including $700 million in federal stimulus money to help fund education and public safety and one without the funds as Governor Mark Sanford continues his crusade to refuse the money. Lawmakers attempted this week to turn up the heat on Sanford to accept the money. Lexington County Republican Jake Knotts agrees with Leatherman that without the funds teachers will be laid off, states prisons would have to close, and worse. Knotts says he is frustrated by the whole deal. “We’re going to be laying off our teachers, opening the doors of the prisons to let criminals back out on the streets to rob the taxpayers of what they didn’t get before they went to prison, and all this on the backs of the poor taxpayer who’s got to try to make ends meet and feed their children and keep a job. Good gosh it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that.”
The Senate voted unanimously to give local school districts the flexibility to deal with the budget crunch. One more vote and the measure goes to the House. The bill would extend by one month the April 15 deadline for handing out teacher contracts.
The House is expected to begin debate this week on the bill that would increase the lowest in the nation seven cents cigarette tax to 57 cents. $139 million from the hike would fund a new health insurance fund for low income workers.
Richland County Representative Joe Neal says more funds are needed for Medicaid for children.Neal says adding more funds to the Medicaid Matching Funds Program makes sound fiscal sense, saying, ” If we can cover 70-thousand plus more children at no additonal cost, failing to do that is irrational because these children if they become ill will end up in our emergency rooms. It will cost the taxpayers of this state much, much more than Medicaid ever would because costs in the emergency room are often quadrupled and even higher.”
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