S.C. House slashes budget $488M

COLUMBIA -- The S.C. House approved a revised, smaller $6.7 billion budget Tuesday, cutting $488 million from state agencies, colleges and programs.

No changes were made to the budget cuts House budget writers approved last week. Those cuts are a response to falling state revenues because of the national economic slowdown.

Democrats only briefly debated raising the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax before shelving the proposal without a vote.

House members argued some programs should be spared from part of the proposed cuts, including a nonprofit group that oversees treatment of the disabled and two state magnet schools for the arts and sciences.

"When we talk about cutting them to the bone, we're talking about cutting the best and brightest of our society," said state Rep. Fletcher Smith, D-Greenville, of a proposed $444,983 cut to the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville. "All they needed was the South Carolina Legislature to commit to them to make sure they had sufficient funding."

State Rep. James Harrison, R-Richland, argued against eliminating money for advocates for the disabled. Harrison said Protection and Advocacy for People With Disabilities had worked on behalf of a relative. The group provides oversight to state agencies that care for the disabled.

But House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, said the Legislature's ability to approve budget cuts this week depends on an agreement between House and Senate leaders on acceptable cuts.

"If we begin down this road by each cherry-picking things that are extremely important to us, we're going to end up in a world of hurt," Merrill said.

If legislators do not act quickly, House leaders said, the State Budget and Control Board could have to make across-the-board budget cuts. State law requires the board to act within 15 days of state economists reducing their estimate of the state's expected revenue.