Week-long debate on budget begins in House (Audio)

Members of the South Carolina House worked into the night Monday during their first day of budget debate.
Lawmakers gave the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division a minimal three percent cut, and the Department of Public Safety an even smaller one percent cut. The Department of Corrections was allowed to run a deficit, in the words of Dorchester Republican Annette Young, “to keep prisoners behind bars.”
It was revealed Monday by Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper that more than $20 million has been set aside in a reserve fund, for next year when the state is expected to be $1 billion short on revenue, twice as much as this year. But Democratic leader Harry Ott took exception to the reserve, saying that no one had known about it previously.
Ott also pointed out that the budget contains $346 million in federal stimulus funds.
The House voted 96-6 Monday to use more than $173 million in federal Medicaid money to cover planned cuts to health care and the Department of Disabilities. The funds depend on final agreement between the U.S. House and Senate on a plan that would send aid to states. Those lawmakers who voted against the measure say the money has not yet been received and that Congress must first agree to it.

More than $10 million was added back to the budget to fund six wilderness camps used by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The state’s Aid To Local Government was cut $27 million by the House Monday, as well as $22 last year. But Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper says with property tax relief, the local government aid actually experienced a 3.6 percent growth this year.
Republicans are proposing cutting the Clemson University Extension program approximately $6 million. Ott said that around $13 million has been cut from the program over the last two years, including a $4 million cut earlier this year. Ott said that the Clemson program is a big help to agri-business.  Federal funding in the amount of $2.6 million would help to offset the cut.
But Darlington County Republican Jay Lucus said that all of the decisions about budget cuts were hard.
(Ott-Lucus on Clemson Extention  MP3  1:28)
Ott-Lucus on Clemson Extention
Greenville County Republican Garry Smith put up a number of amendments, all of which failed, which would have taken funding away from various government programs and given it to public education. Smith wanted to redirect funds from the South Carolina State Museum, as well as the Human Affairs Commission and the Sea Grants Consortium. Smith admitted that he didn’t know what the Consortium does. Republican Jay Lucus defended the Sea Grants Consortium, and told Smith not to pick on it just because he didn’t know what it is.
“In conjunction with many of our colleges and universities, Sea Grants Consortium does research on the coast, and are responsible for the rehabilitation of streams, rivers and beaches.  The amount of money they bring into the state is amazing.  Their budget is $6.5 million of which they’ll receive $364,000 this year.”
  And Lucus said that funding will be matched with federal dollars to create a million dollars.