House budget committee finishes work

By Jim Davenport

Published March 8, 2006

COLUMBIA, SC.– A $6.3 billion budget and a couple of related spending bills are heading to the House floor.

The House Ways and Means Committee wrapped up work Wednesday morning on the spending package for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It puts new Highway Patrol troopers on the road, adds more home beds for the state’s aged and gives state workers a 3 percent raise.

Some lawmakers are already preparing amendments. For instance, the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday propose increasing the state tax more than 100,000 uninsured residents.

The initiative, part of a standalone bill and budget amendment, would help small businesses with fewer than 75 workers provide health care to their employees, said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews. To qualify, employees and their spouses could earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty rate, which is $32,180 for a family of three and $38,700 for a family of four.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to increase the state’s tobacco tax, now the nation’s lowest. Indeed, Rice proposed raising the tax to 37 cents a pack Tuesday, but his amendment failed with a 13-7 vote.

Still, Ott is hopeful.

“When we have an opportunity to take care of 40,000 children in this state, it’s more important than politics,” he said.

Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the state Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said affordable health care for employees is his group’s top priority this year.

Clente Flemming, president of South Carolina Community Bank, said only 10 of his 25 employees can afford healthcare.

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