S.C. Budget Debate Begins, Buses are Key Topic
May 14, 2013 – Last week, economic advisers in South Carolina announced the state’s lottery was generating more profits than expected. State Education Superintendent would like to see the extra funds – all $27 million – go towards new school buses.
Along with the $27 million in extra lottery profits, Superintendent Mick Zais wants lawmakers to use a $10.5 million reserve to bolster the bus fund.
At last year’s price of nearly $82,000 per bus, the $37.5 million could buy about 450 new buses, but the cost depends on contractor bidding.
Zais has been pushing legislators to prioritize new school buses in the state’s budget plan for the 2013-2013 fiscal year, and is strengthening his case after budget deliberations began Monday.
While Zais has pointed out before that the South Carolina school bus fleet is the oldest in the nation, statements from the Department of Education this week have highlighted the cost of the aging fleet to taxpayers.
“These older buses are fuel inefficient and they’re more expensive to maintain, and so by not replacing buses on a regular schedule you’re actually increasing costs to the system overall,” said Jay W. Ragley, a spokesman for Zais.
State law prohibits lottery revenues from being spent on anything other than college scholarships, K-12 programs, public libraries, and school buses.
In 2007, legislators passed a bill which suggested (but does not require) that 1/15th of the school bus fleet should be replaced each year, cycling out buses that had been in service for 15 years or more.
The state budget has never earmarked funds for this regular replacement cycle.
Despite the legal restrictions on spending and the political acknowledgment of the need for new buses, only one significant purchase has been made in the past six years.
The state spent $28 million on 342 buses last year. $23 million of that money came from lottery profits.