SC Senate passes capital spending bill

Seanna Adcox, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina senators approved a bill Thursday designating $113 million from this year's rainy day fund.

The 33-10 vote on the capital reserve bill nearly brought to a close three weeks of budget debate in the chamber. The separate bill requires another vote to return to the House, expected Tuesday, allowing little time for compromise between the chambers' spending plans before the session's scheduled end June 6.

The largest chunk of the $113 million pays off a $20 million loan to the Department of Revenue to cover contracts negotiated by Gov. Nikki Haley following last fall's cyber-theft of millions of taxpayers' personal data. The bill also includes $10 million to extend credit monitoring for taxpayers who signed up for a state-paid service by the March 31 deadline.

Some senators argued that money intended for capital projects should not cover such expenses.

The Budget and Control Board, which Haley leads, approved the loan last December. It allowed the Cabinet agency to pay expenses that included a public relations firm, a legal firm, consultants to diagnose what happened and make recommendations, notification to affected taxpayers, and one year of credit monitoring by Experian.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, spent hours this week questioning the contracts and their worth.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, proposed an amendment — defeated 32-11 — transferring all $113 million to the Department of Transportation for road and bridge construction.

That would include the $2 million set aside for victims of the 2011 children's train ride crash in Spartanburg that killed a 6-year-old boy and injured 27 others. A state inspector had approved the ride a week earlier. Bright, who represents Spartanburg County, said victims' compensation should come from the state's insurance reserve fund instead.

"There's no way that should be in a capital reserve fund," Bright said. "The state's got no business in the train business or the festival business."

The bill's approval comes a week after the Senate passed its $6.3 billion spending proposal for state taxes in 2013-14. Legislators are unlikely to wrap up their work on the budget and the companion capital reserve bill before the gavel falls on the regular session. Last year, the House and Senate couldn't agree on a budget plan until the end of June. A continuing resolution prevented a government shutdown until the budget took effect a week into the fiscal year.

Other items in the capital reserve bill include:

—$10.5 million for new school buses. That, combined with money in the Senate's budget plan, would put a total of $23.5 million toward new buses for public schools.

—$9.9 million for the next phase of the State Farmers Market in Lexington County.

—$7.5 million to the Department of Revenue for improvements to its tax processing system.

—$4.8 million to the Budget and Control Board for efforts to strengthen agencies' cyber-security.

—$3.3 million to a Department of Commerce fund for infrastructure that helps close economic development deals.

—$2 million to the Forestry Commission for firefighting equipment.