- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - With debate stuck on the best way to spend an expected revenue increase, senators have made little progress on South Carolina’s $7 billion spending plan.

Many senators were optimistic after the Senate adjourned Wednesday that the budget would be finalized in just one more day. But Sen. Lee Bright said he plans to filibuster unless lawmakers agree to spend all the hundreds of millions of expected extra dollars on roads.

Bright’s filibuster was supposed to start Wednesday, but senators bypassed the portion of the budget he was going to discuss. They agreed he could take the floor again when it came back up, but opportunity never came for the senator. He had worn extra comfortable shoes for the occasion, but he left the chamber while the sun was shining and still had a banana he had brought to snack on.

“The longer we take, the more people pay attention. If we can make it through a weekend, it gets more people to pay attention,” said Bright, R-Roebuck.

Little progress was made on the budget Wednesday. The Senate passed over a number of proposals, like eliminating pay increases for college presidents and providing public defenders for people charged in municipal court. They did pass a study committee to see if the state should provide a free year of tuition to technical schools.

The debate keeps turning to the extra money. Bright is asking the governor’s office how much the state has in reserve funds. That money, combined with surplus revenue from this year and additional money next budget year - some of which is currently promised to education and health care - could total close to $700 million or $800 million, he said.

“Education is important. But it comes to the point at the sake of what? Between education and health care there is not going to be any budget and the only option left is a tax increase,” Bright said.

Exactly how much additional revenue the state has should become clearer when the Board of Economic Advisors meets on May 21.

Some Republicans aren’t happy with a bill on the Senate floor that would generate $800 million more dollars a year for roads by raising the gas tax by 12 cents over three years and increasing fees for driver’s licenses, vehicle registration among other things.

But while putting some extra money toward roads is fine, the state must make sure it does something like raise the gas tax to make sure there is a yearly source of revenue for roads that can be depended on, said Sen. Joel Lourie.

“We’ve got a billion dollar problem,” said Lourie, D-Columbia. “We don’t want anyone to think because we are using extra money this year, we have solved the problem.”

Lourie supports the proposal that Bright plans to filibuster, which would use $25.5 million of expected surplus money on bonuses for state workers. The current budget contains no across-the-board cost-of-living increase.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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