At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised that South Carolina’s government-run utility Santee Cooper is conducting itself dishonestly and dishonorably with state lawmakers. In fact, the only newsworthy “scoop” these days would be if this scandal-scarred, state-owned power provider – which has racked up billions of dollars in debt thanks to its involvement in a botched nuclear power project (NukeGate) – actually started telling the truth for a change.
That isn’t happening this week, though …
According to our legislative sources, Santee Cooper has told one of its biggest fibs yet – a lie that has the potential to upend efforts by state lawmakers to set a new schedule for themselves (and approve a new scaled-back state spending plan) amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
More ominously, the utility is hoping to use the coronavirus crisis to shut down any discussion of its sale to the private sector at the very moment this option was becoming increasingly appealing to previously undecided lawmakers.
Not to mention increasingly necessary from a financial standpoint …
“Never let a crisis go to waste,” right?
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First, some background: As we first reported last month, state lawmakers are scheduled to return to Columbia, S.C. on Wednesday, April 8 to take care of two items of business.
First, they are expected to approve a continuing resolution that funds state government at its current levels in anticipation of looming shortfalls in revenue. Lawmakers had previously expected to have at least $2 billion in new money to spend during the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2020, but there is now general agreement that this budget surplus will likely be lost due to the economic fallout from the virus.
Second, lawmakers are expected to pass a resolution for the chamber to adjourn sine die, which is Latin for “without day.”
In other words, they will approve the same spending plan they passed last year – and then agree not to meet again until further notice.
The first order of business – the spending resolution – is relatively straightforward. And is unlikely to encounter much in the way of opposition. But the second measure – the adjournment resolution – is more complicated.
As we noted in our previous coverage, sine die resolutions govern which specific items lawmakers are allowed to address when (and if) they reconvene prior to the next year’s session – scheduled for January 2021 after the November elections.
“There is always furious lobbying over the language these resolutions will contain – specifically related to which items are included and which are left out,” we noted. “Our guess is that the lobbying will be fiercer than ever given the uncertainty hanging over the current legislative session.”
Apparently the lobbying has been fierce with regard to both measures. And just as we predicted, the fiercest lobbying has been over Santee Cooper.
According to our sources, leaders in the S.C. House of Representatives and State Senate – including House speaker Jay Lucas and Senate finance chairman Hugh Leatherman – had been working together to craft “strong language” within the continuing resolution related to the potential disposition of the utility.
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Specifically, this language would have directed Santee Cooper not to engage in additional efforts to circumvent the will of the S.C. General Assembly (see here and here) regarding its future during this time of crisis.
Why does this matter?
Because with South Carolina staring down an incredibly uncertain revenue situation due to the looming coronavirus-related recession (depression?), the prospect of selling Santee Cooper – something we recommended the state do more than a dozen years ago – has suddenly become much more viable.
Santee Cooper knows this, and is doing everything within its power (surprise) to shut this debate down so that it can move forward with its so-called “reform” efforts. Its latest play includes making alleged misrepresentations about a deal it purportedly reached with the Central Electric Power Cooperative, a glorified middleman that routes power from Santee Cooper to a statewide network of roughly twenty regional electric cooperatives.
“Santee was so desperate to stop (Lucas and Leatherman) that they tried to cut a deal with Central,” a source familiar with the situation told us.
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Was the deal done? Our sources say “no,” but several legislative leaders were informed – falsely, it would appear – that a deal had been in fact reached with Central.
The ensuing confusion has thrown a massive monkey wrench into legislative deliberations – threatening to derail passage of both the continuing resolution and the sine die resolution.
“Leave it to Santee Cooper to blow up state funding in midst of virus crisis,” one source following the debate told us. “Self-serving asses.”
We concur …
One well-placed source in the Senate confirmed to us early Wednesday that Santee Cooper was in fact “holding up the continuing resolution.” Meanwhile, several leaders in the House confirmed to us that “Santee is blocking the resolution in the Senate.”
We are 100 percent in agreement with Lucas and Leatherman on this issue – and we call on Santee Cooper supporters in the Senate (including Larry Grooms, Luke Rankin, Stephen Goldfinch and Nikki Setlzer) to stop their obstructionism on behalf of this debt-addled, chronically mismanaged, truth-averse government bureaucracy.
Seriously: Are these lawmakers really so shamelessly beholden to Santee Cooper?
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These duplicitous, eleventh hour machinations by Santee Cooper and its legislative backers provide further evidence in support of our long-held belief that the citizens and taxpayers of South Carolina must rid themselves of this albatross sooner rather than later.
“There is no possible ‘reform’ plan we could ever embrace that does not include either the outright sale of Santee Cooper or the transfer of all of its management functions to the private sector – with this management agreement clearly stipulating a timetable for the utility’s eventual offloading,” we noted last month.
“Because government has no business being in the power generation business, that’s why,” we added.
Especially not after NukeGate – in which state lawmakers allowed Santee Cooper and its private sector partner to flush an estimated $10 billion down the drain on a pair of abandoned nuclear reactors.
“What is it going to take to rid us of Santee Cooper?” one of our readers wondered.
We don’t know … but judging by its apparent efforts to manipulate this crisis to its advantage, we need to figure out the answer to that question immediately.
UPDATE: Legislative leaders respond …
WANNA SOUND OFF?
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