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Teacher raises, COVID-19 hazard pay heads to SC Senate floor

By JEFFREY COLLINS Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A small raise for teachers and a hazard pay bonus for many state employees who couldn’t work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic are in the spending plan heading to the South Carolina Senate floor next week.
Even if the Senate agrees to the proposals that change the budget, they aren’t guaranteed to pass the House, whose leaders have suggested lawmakers at least consider that the state make no changes in spending until at least January.
The General Assembly delayed finishing the 2020-2021 budget this spring after COVID-19 started spreading, saying the virus was causing too much uncertainty to lock in spending all the way through June 2021. Instead, they agreed to keep spending at the levels in the 2019-2020 budget and revisit the situation in a special session this month.
That session starts Tuesday, and just about the first item of business in the Senate will be some changes to this year’s budget.
The Senate will consider $40 million to provide small raises to teachers that were frozen earlier this year. The “step increases” usually amount to several hundred dollars a year, based on the number of years they have been in the profession.
The proposal also includes a $1,000 hazard pay bonus for about 12,000 state workers who make less than $50,000 a year and had to keep working during COVID-19 while other state employees stayed home. That includes workers such as state troopers, clerks at state agencies or health department workers.
The money comes out of nearly $775 million the state has saved over the past two budget cycles.
State budget officials have predicted that the state should collect as much in taxes and fees this budget year as last. The bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Finance Committee takes $500 million of the money that has been saved and sets it aside as a cushion in case those predictions don’t come true. This year’s budget is estimated at around $9 billion.
The proposal also puts pressure on the House, which has considered not dealing with a budget bill at all. If the Senate passed the bill and the House ignored it, the raises and bonus pay would disappear.
House Speaker Jay Lucas declined to talk about the House’s budget plans through a spokeswoman this week.
Gov. Henry McMaster has also backed making no changes to this year’s copied and pasted budget until at least January.
The Senate proposal also gives $50 million for state prison security upgrades, just half of the amount the House agreed to when it passed a budget — before the pandemic struck in early March — that predicted nearly $2 billion in extra spending money because of a booming state economy. That plan, which also included $3,000 across the board raises for all state teachers, has been scrapped.
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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.
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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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