Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This year will be the year of two budgets at the S.C. Statehouse.

Because the pandemic cut short the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers didn’t pass a new budget. Instead, they approved a measure to keep state spending at the same level as the previous year. In turn, that had a couple of ramifications: 

First, it led to a big surplus because of hundreds of millions of unspent reserves that weren’t budgeted. There also were millions of unbudgeted new tax dollars that piled up. According to a Nov. 10 preliminary forecast for the state’s 2021-22 fiscal year, lawmakers should have about $1.2 billion in new revenue to spend over and above what regularly comes in. Read our previous coverage.

Second, the extra funds allowed the state to continue to operate during challenging times without making mid-year cuts experienced by other states — because South Carolina had the ability to channel some of the extra money for emergencies. That provided stability in unstable times -— something budget overseers like.

“We were on the cusp of doing teacher pay raises and other things for education,” said Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.  “Obviously, we’ve had to redirect money into the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and other things related to health care, so we’re going to have to go back and revisit those budget issues.”

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said there was a lot of uncertainty still around the 2021-22 budget, but would have a clearer view in the coming months.