- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina will almost certainly start the fiscal year July 1 without a state budget.

A six-member committee of House and Senate members concluded Monday that it’s futile to try to get a compromise on the budget bill with two surplus spending bills unresolved. How much should go to road repair remains the biggest holdup.

“What you’re saying is: It’s going to be a long summer,” House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said after senators insisted the bills travel together.

White had hoped to have a compromise on the $7 billion plan for state taxes ready for the special session that starts June 16. But that would leave hanging how to spend more than $400 million in revenues that were higher than previously expected, which the House allocates in separate bills.

“Action on any one can affect the others,” said Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. “We’ve got to roll these up and have one bill we can deal with in conference.”

Until then, he said, “we’re sort of wasting our time.”

Leatherman said his top priority is passing a continuing resolution that will keep state government running at current levels until a budget package passes.

The House passed the resolution May 28. Leatherman is calling a Senate Finance Committee meeting Wednesday so that a floor vote in that chamber is possible when the Legislature reconvenes.

“State employees will be paid, make no mistake,” he said.

A continuing resolution was last necessary in 2012 to bridge a one-week gap between the Legislature passing its plan and Gov. Nikki Haley issuing her vetoes. Before that, it had been at least three decades since a fiscal year started without a budget in place.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said the overall budget package must designate at least $300 million toward repairing local roads.

“I promise you - I guarantee you - there will be a problem in the Senate” without that amount, he said.

Both chambers’ main budget proposals transfer about $50 million from the state sales tax on cars to roadwork. A proposed Senate compromise would send roughly $120 million of surplus to repair existing roads. A House proposal would send $150 million.

“We’re in an unusual and awkward situation” with the budget, said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia.

That’s largely because the road-funding debate brought the Senate to a standstill in the weeks before the regular session ended Thursday.

The “capital reserve” bill for one-time, surplus spending normally moves in tandem with the budget. But Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, blocked its passage as part of his opposition to a gas tax increase. His weekslong filibuster prevented the Senate from ever voting on a proposal raising roughly $700 million additional yearly for roadwork by raising that tax and other fees.

With those bills stuck in the Senate, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced a separate bill that would spend roughly $300 million in additional revenue that state economic advisers certified May 29 as available to spend in 2015-16.

Davis has said he won’t resume his filibuster in the special session. That allows for the Senate to pass a capital reserve bill while the House takes up its supplemental budget proposal.

Even if the overall package spends $300 million on roads, Setzler said, “I don’t want anyone to be misled to think that solves the road-funding problem in this state.”

White said he agreed a one-time allocation won’t solve a recurring problem.

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