For 3rd consecutive year, South Carolina fiscal year closes with higher-than-expected surplus



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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina's fiscal year ended with nearly $87 million more in surplus than legislators had counted on, handing them more to spend next year.

That windfall is on top of the supplemental spending package legislators put together in early June, after the state's economic advisers revised their earlier projections by more than $300 million. In all, lawmakers designated more than $7 billion in state taxes for 2015-16.

It's the third consecutive year that revenue collections exceeded advisers' May estimates.

"We're likely to see continued growth for a while based on what we're seeing," Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, the state's chief accountant, said Friday.

However, he cautioned that doesn't mean "we're on a permanent road to financial good times," as economic downturns can occur.

The state had nearly $1.2 billion in reserves as of June 30, which included $415 million sitting in state agencies' accounts, he said.

"In my mind, that's not at all excessive. That's just good budget management," said the Republican comptroller general.

He noted legislators had to deplete all reserves and cut $1.3 billion in the years around the Great Recession.

The fiscal-year closing report Eckstrom issued Thursday shows state revenue grew by 7.3 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That compares to 2.5 percent the previous year and 9.1 percent in 2012-13. Those end-of-year surpluses were $32 million and $68 million, respectively.

Most of the growth came from individual income taxes and state sales taxes, Eckstrom said.

He commended legislators for "beginning to look long-term at highway funding" by designating more than $300 million in the 2015-16 spending package toward South Carolina's roadways. And he encouraged lawmakers to put the $87 million toward that too.

The supplemental budget package distributed $216 million to counties for repair of existing roads and designated $70 million to partially fund infrastructure promised to Volvo. The budget set aside $50 million in an account for future borrowing for large highway projects. It can't be used until the Legislature passes a long-term fix for roads.

A bill that would raise an additional $800 million yearly for roadwork through taxes and fees will be at the top of the Senate's debate calendar when the session resumes in January.

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