In a joint statement released on May 16, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White announced that the differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2018-19 state budget are so numerous and complex that House and Senate budget negotiators will not reach a consensus by the time the General Assembly returns to the State House on May 23 and 24. The revised schedule means that legislators will not adopt a budget before the June 12 primaries and any subsequent runoffs, which will be held June 26.
The Budget Conference Committee will continue to meet in the coming weeks in an effort to present a budget recommendation to lawmakers when they return to Columbia a second time on June 27 and 28. It is very likely that the ordinary expenses of state government beginning with the new fiscal year on July 1 will be funded by a Continuing Resolution while lawmakers ratify the budget and address the inevitable line-item vetoes by Governor McMaster.
The Senate members of the Conference Committee are Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), 2018 SCICU Legislative Champion Sen. John Mathews (D-Bowman), and Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Summerville). Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Brian White (R-Anderson), Rep. Durham Cole (R-Spartanburg) and Rep. Bill Clyburn (D-Aiken) represent the House.
There are significant differences between the two budget proposals, especially when it comes to funding higher education. The Senate proposed increased funding for need-based grants— both Tuition Grants for students attending private non-profit colleges and the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) program for public colleges—the academic library consortium (PASCAL), and recurring funds for public colleges and universities. The House proposed no such increases, but agreed with the Senate to fully-fund the Merit Scholarships.
Given the broad differences in the two budgets, SCICU’s advocacy efforts are focused on the Senate’s proposal to increase funding to need-based grants by over $11 million. Under the Senate plan, the Tuition Grants Commission would receive a direct increase of about $1.2 million and an indirect increase of approximately $1.6 million from its share of the almost $10 million increase proposed for the CHE need-based grant program.
Need-based grants are essential for promoting access and affordability to higher education, especially for low income, first generation, and minority students. If the Senate version becomes law, the maximum Tuition Grant could increase more than 6% from $3,200 to $3,400 per year for more than 13,600 Tuition Grant recipients attending independent colleges and universities. Depending on the cost of tuition and fees, more than 16,000 students attending public colleges and universities could see similar increases.
Advocates for student financial aid and independent higher education are encouraged to contact members of the Budget Conference Committee in support of the Senate budget proposal for funding need-based grants. Please refer to the links above for contact information for Budget Conference Committee members.