Money matters to get top billing during SC legislative session

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - When state lawmakers open the legislative session Tuesday they will have an additional $913 million to deal with in their budget plans.

If that sounds like a problem you'd like to have, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say think again.

"I think it will probably present a few more challenges actually," said House Minority leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun County. "In the years that we had a shortfall we simply identified the priorities and cut those agencies that didn't make the high priority list."

With mutliple financial holes to plug and more money available to do it, prioritizing could be more difficult as more state agencies make their case for a financial boost.

Governor Nikki Haley has said the additional revenues should be used to pay off state debt or be given back to taxpayers through rebates.

Others contend the money should be used to give state workers a raise. S

tate employees have not received a pay increase in three years and, in many agencies, they've been forced to take unpaid leave, which reduced their paycheck during the recession.

While there is support among both Democrats and Republicans, the leaders of the state's Republican-controlled Legislature say they will not use the additional $913 million in revenue to boost agencies' budgets back to pre-recession levels.

"What I hope doesn't happen is that there's a stampede to embed that into recurring expenses," said Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. "That would be the wrong thing to do. W

e're going to have good years and we're going to have bad years and the worst thing that we could do is let the budget blow up like a balloon on an air hose."

It's likely the state's retirement system will also fall squarely in the crosshairs of the financial fight. It has a roughly $13 billion deficit. How much money, if any, goes to reduce that deficit remains to be seen. However, there is a House proposal that would have state workers pay more into the pension system and possibly get less when they retire.

"Some of that may be funded with dollars. Some of that may be taken care of through the legislative process to make the changes that fundamentally need to be made to the system to bring down that unfunded liability," said House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson County.

The state's budget office expects lawmakers to have several hundred million dollars of additional revenue to allocate in 2012-13, even after some key funding issues are covered.

Some lawmakers argue that money should be used to give state workers a pay raise, especially if they are asked to contribute more into the retirement system.

"The one thing you learn in business is that you better take care of your employees or you'll be left without them," said Ott.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)