In late April, the Senate sent to the House their version of the 2023-24 State Budget, which had few changes from what we had sent three weeks earlier to them. 

The next step is for a joint committee from both houses to iron out the differences and then pass it on to Gov. Henry McMaster for final approval.

In the House, the budget received bipartisan support on a vote of 108-11, following a couple of long and strenuous days of discussion and disagreements on the House floor. The Senate approved its version of the budget unanimously after an unusually short debate.

Chief among the differences were $200 million less in bridge repairs and differences about how big the raises should be for certain levels of state employees. 

Both plans agreed that many law enforcement positions like state troopers, state agents and nurses in prisons should be in line for larger pay raises.

Many teachers are also going to receive a raise. The plan would increase the minimum salary at every teacher position and experience level by $2,500. The state would also cover any increases in health insurance premiums. South Carolina’s starting teacher pay would now be $42,500. Of course many school districts, like Beaufort County, are higher.

The 2023-24 state general fund budget approved by the House was $13.8 billion. The Senate was $800 million less. 

Through collaboration with Gov. McMaster and Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver, there will be a transformative investment in education. In addition to salary increases for teachers, this budget provides for:

• Funds to purchase school busses and hire more school bus drivers.

• $20 million toward school safety upgrades

• Funding for a school resource officer in every South Carolina public school.

• Additional funds for tutoring programs to help close learning gaps.

• Making higher education more affordable through tuition mitigation, with more scholarship funding and needs-based grants.

• A new funding of $300 million for maintenance and renovations at both comprehensive and technical colleges across the state. 

This includes funding for the first veterinary medicine school in South Carolina at Clemson University, and $54 million to replace the nearly 100-year-old Turner Hall at South Carolina State University, which has increased it student body in each of the past two years.

Because there have been certain gaps in services available to South Carolinians, we also were able to add $300 million to the healthcare portion of the new budget. These included: 

• An increase in compensation for both nursing and mental health professionals working for the state.

• Strengthening the state’s response to calls, texts and messages received for suicide prevention.

• Assisting the Department of Mental Health with support for its maintenance of long-term care/nursing homes for veterans.

Keeping pace with the continued rapid population growth of our state is going to keep us all busy in the years ahead to make South Carolina one of the finest places to live in America.

Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.