The South Carolina House of Representatives has met just once – for less than an hour-and-a-half – since the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic. That could change next week, however, as multiple sources tell us the chamber is considering convening at some point during the first full week of April.
One legislative leader told us the specific date for the abbreviated session was “not settled yet.” Another indicated S.C. speaker of the House Jay Lucas and his leadership team – including majority leader Gary Simrill – were working with other lawmakers to determine the feasibility of such a session.
On its agenda? Two items …
First would be the passage of a continuing resolution that would fund state government at its current (fiscal year 2019-2020) level. Once the budget measure is approved, House members are expected to pass a separate resolution that would allow for the chamber to adjourn sine die, which is Latin for “without day.”
In other words, House members would agree to lock in state spending at the levels they approved last year and then adjourn until further notice.
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The first item is relatively straightforward. By adopting a continuing resolution that funds state operations at their current levels, House members are acknowledging that the massive budget surpluses that were projected for the coming fiscal year (which they were preparing to spend nearly all of) are no longer likely to materialize.
In fact, there is growing concern the Palmetto State could be facing budget shortfalls in the months to come.
Talk about from feast to famine … like “that” (snaps fingers).
Suspending the budget process with a continuing resolution would give lawmakers time to receive (and review) several monthly revenue reports from the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs (SCRFA) office before reassessing the situation.
At that point, they will likely have a better sense of the short-, medium- and potential long-term financial impacts associated with the fallout from the pandemic.
The second item could get trickier. Sine die resolutions are passed every spring at the end of the regular session of the legislature. These resolutions govern which specific items lawmakers are allowed to address when (and if) they reconvene prior to the next year’s session.
Special interests and their State House lobbyists jockey furiously for slots on these resolutions, and given the uncertainty that is hanging over the legislative process at the moment – we expect that lobbying to be fiercer than ever.
Of particular interest? Whether lawmakers will include legislation related to the disposition of debt-addled, government-run utility Santee Cooper in their sine die resolution – and whether the continuing budget resolution will include Lucas’ conference committee negotiations on Santee Cooper.
Why does this matter? Because if the economic fallout from the coronavirus turns state government’s $2 billion surplus into a $2 billion deficit, the state may no longer have any choice but to unload the historically mismanaged utility.
UPDATE: Both chambers will reconvene in Columbia, S.C. on Wednesday, April 8 at 1:00 p.m. EDT.
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