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After growing government by more than $2 billion over the last four years, all that taxpayer strangulation finally caught up with S.C. lawmakers today.

In proposing $331 million in additional “cuts” to deal with declining state revenues, leaders of the House Ways & Means handed out spreadsheets to members today with the following budget reductions …

Department of Education – $88.5 million (3.6%)
Department of Health and Human Services – $76.7 million (8.1%)
University of South Carolina-Columbia – $26.9 million (14.9%)
State Technical College System – $24.8 million (14.4%)
Department of Mental Health – $23.6 million (10.8%)
Department of Disabilities and Special Needs – $21.5 million (11.2%)
Department of Health and Environmental Control – $19.6 million (13.7%)
Clemson University – $16.5 million (14.9%)
Medical University of South Carolina – $14.2 million (14.9%)
Local Government Aid – $19.5 million (6.5%)

The House “cuts” also move a lot of money around, taking $10 million in surplus Department of Motor Vehicles money to use for school bus fuel and $10 million from the state’s endowed chair program to fund LIFE scholarships.

Additionally, $8 million from a controversial legislative slush fund was transferred to the Department of Corrections, although it remains unclear how much money remains in this fund, which lawmakers use to fund pet projects in their districts.

Lawmakers are also proposing the liquidation of our state’s capital reserve fund, which has a $133 million balance.

All told, we’re looking at around $488 million in “cuts” – or roughly 7% of the budget.

In addition to the Ways & Means proposals, the Senate Finance Committee put out its own spreadsheet of recommended “cuts” as well, although neither document provided much in the way of context or specifics, such as budget trends from previous years or a full accounting of any carryover balances held by certain agencies.

“There are a lot of questions that I – and other members – have based on these recommendations,” said conservative State Sen. Larry Grooms. “In trying to prioritize these cuts, we’re only looking at part of the picture.”

Grooms said he wanted to look at specific line items from previous budgets to determine if these “cuts” were in fact doing everything possible to hold front-line services as harmless as possible.

“All we got was a snapshot today and a recommendation, so I’ve got to spend some time trying to research out these other issues,” Grooms said.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why we keeping putting the word “cuts” in quotation marks, it’s hard to really call something a cut when you’ve grown government by more than 40% over the past four years.

These are more like “reductions in excess,” the details of which we’ll be delving into more in the days ahead.