Politics & Government

SC lawmakers agree to send $50 checks to taxpayers. But it’ll cost $700K

South Carolina has an extra billion dollars. Here is how Governor McMaster wants to spend it.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced his proposed budget. It focuses heavily on funding education and public safety.
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South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced his proposed budget. It focuses heavily on funding education and public safety.

South Carolinians who didn’t win the $1.5 billion Mega-Millions jackpot last fall still could get a piece of that money in the form of a tax rebate.

With a Senate vote Thursday, S.C. lawmakers have agreed to give the state’s $61 million tax windfall from that jackpot — plus $6 million more — to Palmetto State taxpayers. That amounts to about $50 per S.C. tax return,money that will be spent out of the state’s $9.3 billion budget that received preliminary approval Thursday.

However, the rebates come at a cost. The state must spend an estimated $700,000 on postage just to mail the rebates.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster first proposed the idea of rebating $200 million back to taxpayers, telling reporters in January that 2019 was the “right year to make good on that promise” and return money to South Carolinians.

Not every lawmaker agreed with that logic.

“I just for one, don’t believe the folks back home are going to be impressed with this,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry.

State Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, proposed putting that money toward litter pick up. Hembree instead proposed sending the state’s lottery share to the state’s underfunded pension system.

“We’ve got a chance here to work toward solving a problem, and that problem is our pension system,” he said Thursday.

The state has struggled to fill a $20 billion hole in the state’s retirement system. Two years ago, lawmakers passed a law requiring state workers, local government employees and police officers to pay more money into the state’s pension fund.

“Folks back home don’t get all excited about the pension system,” Hembree said. “They’ll get very excited if we’ve got to raise taxes because we did goofy things with money along the way.”

But Hembree’s idea to put the state’s $61 million lottery share into the system received little support.

It failed after the Senate voted to kill it in a 29-15 vote.

“In the whole scheme of things, ... ($61 million) is a small sliver,” said Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, who commended Hembree’s effort. “But it is a significant sliver that we’ve got to start attacking.”

Furthermore, the Legislature should not tackle the state’s retirement system problem with tax dollars, argued state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who said the problem should have been fixed two years ago.

That opportunity has vanished, he said.

“I don’t care if it’s just $50,” he said. “I want as much money put back into the private sector, because, fundamentally, that private sector is going to put it in productive uses.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.

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