- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Senate has approved a $7.5 billion state budget that puts an additional $300 million into K-12 education, covers the state’s expenses from last fall’s historic flooding and provides $40 million in grants to flood-devastated farmers.

Senators’ 36-5 vote Wednesday returned their spending plans for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to the House.

“I’m extremely happy,” said Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. “We met a lot of needs of the people of this state. We couldn’t meet them all.”

Senators who voted against the budget criticized it for being the state’s largest ever.

“As our state’s population grows, our needs have grown,” Leatherman said.

Differences in the chambers’ plans include employee pay. The Senate doubled workers’ cost-of-living increase to 4 percent. That would be the largest raise given to all workers since 2005.

The Senate’s $300 million for road and bridge construction is roughly $100 million less than the House plan. But a separate Senate bill uses $200 million of that, redirected from annual vehicle sales taxes and fees, to borrow $2.2 billion and jump-start highway improvements. House leaders have said they like the idea.

Senators added $2.4 million in the budget for police body cameras. But they cut in half the amount allocated on replenishing sand along South Carolina’s coast, to $20 million.

Sen. Shane Martin, who voted against the Senate plan, nevertheless thanked his colleagues for putting more toward local governments, per-student spending and school buses. In prior years, Martin has unsuccessfully proposed amendments to fund those as called for by state law.

Although the spending plan still falls hundreds of millions of dollars short, Martin called the increases a “step in the right direction.”

“I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you,’” he said at the podium.

-The Senate’s proposal puts $240 million into the “local government fund” or nearly $30 million more than the House. That money, distributed to counties and cities based on population, is supposed to cover expenses state government requires, including office space for legislators. Under a 1991 state law, it should be $70 million more. But legislators haven’t followed that law since 2008.

-Both chambers’ plans increase the so-called “base student cost” to $2,350 per student, which is $130 more than provided in the current budget. That money, one of several funding sources for schools, is distributed to districts based on a 1977 formula adjusted annually for inflation. The state hasn’t fully funded it since the Great Recession. Doing so would take roughly $500 million more.

-The Senate plan would spend $11 million more on K-12 school buses, bringing the total to $28 million. That’s about $5 million less than needed to comply with a 15-year-replacement-cycle law legislators passed in 2007, then ignored.

The House and Senate will hash out the differences in their budget plans through a six-member committee.

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