House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith, center, walks through the chamber during the House session on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The House gave key approval to a plan to alter how COVID-19 vaccines are distributed in South Carolina. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House's budget writing committee has passed its nearly $10 billion spending plan that includes small raises for teachers and law enforcement.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Murrell Smith said more raises and other delayed projects could end up in the plan eventually because tax revenues are well above projections.

But for now, budget writers want to take a conservative approach and wait to see how much money the state actually collects in taxes by the mid-April deadline and give economists a few extra months to track trends in what remains an unstable COVID-19 economy, said Smith, R-Sumter.

“We are again being cautious as we have been through this entire pandemic. We are not going to be reckless in our spending. We are going to prepare for the worst case scenario and hope we have better days ahead of us," Murrell told the Ways and Means Committee as it started work Tuesday.

The spending plan includes small annual pay raises for teachers based on their years of service that typically boost their pay by several hundred dollars a year.

The budget adds about $16 million for similar small raises and other bonuses to retain police officers and prison workers, The State newspaper reported.

Other items that made it into the more conservative spending plan are $90 million for security upgrades at prisons and $30 million to help expand broadband internet to rural areas, a need many lawmakers said became critical during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Some items not in the plan, like a raise for all state employees or grants for small businesses hurt by the pandemic, could likely find their way back in the budget if tax revenues and other economic predictions continue to look rosy, Smith said.

“If they do, let me tell everybody, you need to prepare for your May and your June, and while we are out of session to come back in and deal with the budget,” Smith said.

Lawmakers have about $9.8 billion at their discretion to spend with current projections. They have just under $1 billion in one-time money, but much of that is being set aside for COVID-19 costs and rainy day funds.


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