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SC Budget Battle Looms

Battle over debt could result in a bitter budget fight …

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South Carolina lawmakers (especially “Republicans”) love to talk about how they pass a “balanced budget” each year.  Is that true?  Hell no …

Deficit spending in the Palmetto State is out-of-control … and reaching dangerous levels.

So yeah … it’s not just reckless, results-averse spending increases South Carolina taxpayers ought to be angry about.  They are also being placed deeper in debt each year as a result of their leaders’ addiction to obscenely big government.

This year it’s the same thing … just costlier.   Of course we are reliably informed that negotiations over the state’s forthcoming $30 billion spending plan are far more contentious this year than they were last year.

And deficit spending is at the heart of the discord …

This week, negotiators from the S.C. House of Representatives and State Senate – both “Republican-controlled” chambers – are scheduled to have their first conference meeting on the state budget.  The lead negotiators?  A pair of fiscal liberals: House ways and means committee chairman Brian White and Senate finance committee chairman Hugh Leatherman.

The deadline for a deal?  July 1 … the first day of the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Up for discussion is an estimated $67 million worth of deficit spending for which these legislative leaders have different designs.  Obviously that’s a drop in the bucket of a $30 billion budget, but the battle over this particular pot of money could throw the entire state spending plan in jeopardy.

Here’s the deal …

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In its original version of the fiscal year 2018-2019 budget, the House of Representatives earmarked this money for debt service (i.e. paying down state government’s ever-escalating stack of IOUs).  In the Senate version of the budget, however, the $67 million was taken out of debt repayment and instead earmarked for multiple pork barrel projects – including numerous boondoggles bound for Democratic districts.

An impasse …

When House leaders got the budget back from the Senate last month, they decided to put forward a third option – $54 million in funding for a desperately needed crime laboratory at the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and $13 million for facilities upgrades at the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC).

Both of these spending items represent core functions of government.  And both should have been funded years ago, to be perfectly honest.

In fact, funding for SLED’s crime lab was originally included in the previous year’s budget – but was yanked at the last minute.

What a joke.  Our state spends billions of tax dollars each year propping up a non-essential higher education system (including guaranteed raises for six-figured educrats who stoke snowflake rage) but a core function of government like law enforcement gets left out?

Unreal …

Lawmakers’ failure to build this facility has resulted in a growing backlog of criminal cases.  It’s also raised the facility’s price tag.

“SLED began discussions about replacing our aging laboratory with governor Nikki Haley’s budget staff five years ago,” the agency’s chief, Mark Keel, told reporters last month.  “Since that time we have worked closely with the governor’s office and the budget leadership of both the House and Senate to go through all of the steps to meet our law enforcement partners’ future needs.  State funding is crucial for our laboratory’s future. We’ve been told that for each year we wait, the total cost will increase by at least two and a half percent.”

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Similarly, the money earmarked for SCDC is vitally needed.   Corrections is also a core function of government, one that has been consistently shortchanged even as state lawmakers have grown the budget in recent years.

As we noted last fall in a piece arguing for top-to-bottom reform of the agency, “there are not enough guards working in Palmetto prisons – and the guards who are working there are not sufficiently trained, equipped or compensated.”

No wonder so many of them wind up helping the gangs by smuggling contraband inside our prisons.

Under embattled director Bryan Stirling, the agency is finally adding front-line security officers – and paying them more money – but upgrading on-site security is also something that’s long-overdue.

Once again, though, lawmakers continue to pump ever-escalating sums of money into demonstrably failed bureaucracies (and pork projects) while core functions are forced to do without.

Often it’s worse than that: Shortfalls at core agencies like these tend to be deliberately created … and then used as political leverage in budget fights (i.e. exactly what is happening now).

To be clear: We do not support deficit spending.

Funding for SLED’s crime lab – and for the security enhancements at SCDC – should have been included in this year’s state spending plan.  In fact, considering this year’s proposed state budget is more than $1 billion bigger than last year’s there is absolutely no good reason why these items were not included.

In other words this is a debate the state shouldn’t even be having …

Since it’s happening, though, how will it end?  We see at least four possible outcomes …

If the Senate gets its way, Democratic districts will get their pork.  If the House prevails, SLED will receive funding for its crime lab and SCDC will get its security money.  In the event both chambers stick to their guns, the funding would revert back to debt service (its original appropriation).  Finally, if no deal is reached prior to July 1 – the debate could force lawmakers to adopt a continuing resolution to fund government at its current levels while the two chambers go back to the drawing board.

Stay tuned … we will wait to see which chamber blinks first.

What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comments section below.

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Banner: Travis Bell Photography


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