S.C. Senate OKs bill to slash state spending

COLUMBIA -- The South Carolina Senate approved $488 million in spending cuts Thursday, refusing to change a bill the House approved earlier this week.

Slashing state support for higher education, state agencies and conservation, while limiting the reduction to K-12 education, lawmakers tried to spend money where it was needed most. The cuts were required after state economists lowered revenue projections earlier this month.

The cuts could mean state workers are forced to take unpaid leave. Some temporary workers have been notified they will lose their jobs in November.

The bill heads to Gov. Mark Sanford, who has indicated he might veto portions of the bill that limit the state's Medicaid program and sets aside money for regional economic development groups.

Senate leadership worked to limit debate on the bill in order to avoid having to work out differences with the House.

"If we open that door, there's no end to it," Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, told the body. "To me, we have one objective -- to cut spending."

During debate Thursday, some senators reluctantly withdrew amendments to the budget.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said the Senate should rethink some state tax breaks, such as rebates for movie production.

"Some of that money goes to out-of-state Hollywood directors," Campsen said. "I can't think of a more profitable industry."

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, withdrew a proposal to halve the 2009 legislative session. Leatherman argued all of these changes could be debated when the Legislature returns in January.

One change pushed by Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, would set aside more money in flush budget years to be spent when revenues drop.

"Keep this tough year in mind," McConnell said.

While health programs took the largest hit, colleges will lose more than 14 percent of their state funding and more than $10 million aimed at spurring research at Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina. The universities also lose cash for new high-speed data networks.

College and state agency leaders now are planning how to face reductions, including whether they'll need to cut jobs or send workers home for days without pay.

Sanford has until Oct. 30 to veto portions of the budget with which he disagrees. The Legislature likely will return on Halloween to vote on vetoes.